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Student grants at risk after botched costing

The government is considering cutting student grants and freezing the number of university places after it drastically miscalculated increases in the bill for higher education higher education

Study beyond the level of secondary education. Institutions of higher education include not only colleges and universities but also professional schools in such fields as law, theology, medicine, business, music, and art.
, the Guardian has learned.

It would constitute a major U-turn, reversing last year's pledge to raise the number of students eligible for free money while they study and a key policy to boost the number of graduates.

The move, which would apply to England alone, would be fiercely opposed by students and universities, and risks a serious political backlash.

Sources said the problem stems from the rushed creation of the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills The Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) is a British government department created on 28 June 2007 to take over some of the functions of the disbanded departments of Education and Skills and Trade and Industry.  and the sudden announcement of a massive expansion of student grants, within eight days of Gordon Brown becoming prime minister in July 2007. A senior Whitehall source said the plan, which means two-thirds of students are eligible for some kind of grant at the cost of hundreds of millions of pounds each year, was not properly costed, leaving a hole.

The source called the announcement to expand grants "a fingers in the sky" exercise which meant the new ministry was not allocated enough money to pay the grants from the start. Ministers were also caught out by a boom in applications.

The department is understood to be short of more than £100m. Its overall annual budget is £17bn.

Universities also face a freeze on student numbers, effectively suspending the government policy to expand the university system and boost the number of graduates. The government is committed to a long-term plan to improve the nation's skills and fuel the recovery from the economic downturn, but there may have to be a short-term freeze to claw back claw back

1. to get back (something) with difficulty

2. to recover (a part of a grant or allowance) in the form of a tax or financial penalty
 some of the spending.

The Guardian understands ministers are in intense discussions about the details of how to meet the rising bill of higher education and about how to limit the impact of any decision on students. Moves are being made to divert di·vert  
v. di·vert·ed, di·vert·ing, di·verts
1. To turn aside from a course or direction: Traffic was diverted around the scene of the accident.

 money from other spending inside the ministry, but senior government sources suggested these would not be enough to plug the gap.

If the secretary of state responsible, John Denham John Denham may refer to:
  • John Denham (UK politician) (born 1953), British Member of Parliament for Southampton Itchen
  • John Denham (poet) (1615–1669), English poet.
  • John 'Abs' Denham is a fictional nurse in the UK television drama Casualty
, can't find the cash from within the department he faces the option of reducing the amount students receive, the proportion who qualify, or cutting funding to universities for students already on their books. He is expected to make a statement to parliament explaining the emergency changes.

A source close to the discussions said: "Universities have been successful and recruited more students. But the cost is higher, so they've got to save and one obvious way is to change the system. They don't want to cut grants or numbers but they've got to find the money."

The expansion of grants was introduced last month. It meant students from families with incomes of up to £25,000 are entitled en·ti·tle  
tr.v. en·ti·tled, en·ti·tling, en·ti·tles
1. To give a name or title to.

2. To furnish with a right or claim to something:
 to the maximum grant - a big rise from the previous threshold of £17,500. Students from families with incomes of up to £60,000 were also entitled to a new partial grant. They estimated that a third of students from this September would receive a full grant worth £2,825 a year and a further third would receive a partial grant on a sliding scale slid·ing scale
A scale in which indicated prices, taxes, or wages vary in accordance with another factor, as wages with the cost-of-living index or medical charges with a patient's income.

The number of students starting university this year in England rose by 10.5%, taking ministers and universities by surprise. The biggest rises were among students from poorer socio-economic backgrounds, putting intense pressure on the funding pot.

One university head said it made universities victims of their own success in expanding numbers. "Universities are bracing bracing,
n a resistance to the horizontal components of masticatory force.
 themselves for unpleasant news," he said.

The expansion of grants was widely welcomed when the July 2007 announcement was made, but its scale stunned stun  
tr.v. stunned, stun·ning, stuns
1. To daze or render senseless, by or as if by a blow.

2. To overwhelm or daze with a loud noise.

 some within the university sector.

Bahram Bekhradnia, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute thinktank, said: "Increasing grant support immediately made it a much more expensive package and it seemed completely unnecessary at the time - the overriding (programming) overriding - Redefining in a child class a method or function member defined in a parent class.

Not to be confused with "overloading".
 political interest was widening participation The goal of widening participation in higher education is a major component of government education policy in the United Kingdom; see role of the new Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills.  but this did nothing for that as these people were going to university anyway.

"It was very strange and was clearly political. It didn't seem to fit with an economic or policy need and added to the cost of what was already a very generous and costly arrangement."

Wes Streeting, the National Union of Students president, said: "If this is confirmed it would be outrageous. In a serious economic downturn it's shocking that one of the first groups to be picked on could be the poorest students in higher education. In terms of social justice this would be a complete setback setback

In architecture, a steplike recession in the profile of a high-rise building. Usually dictated by building codes to allow sunlight to reach streets and lower floors, the building must take another step back from the street for every specified added height interval.

A department spokesman said: "The government is fully committed (Law) committed to prison for trial, in distinction from being detained for examination.

See also: Fully
 to the expansion of higher education and can ensure finance should not be a barrier to those that want to do a degree."
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Date:Oct 25, 2008
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