Helping pupils to stay in education

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SUNDERLAND University says it works hard with schools to encourage youngsters to stay on in education amid claims that more should be done to target school-leavers.

Alan Milburn, a former Labour MP, has said in his social mobility report for the Government that universities should be funding grants, like the scrapped education maintenance allowance, to help poor pupils stay in school and get on degree courses.

He said universities spend too much on bursaries and reduced tuition fees for poorer students and should instead target money at schools.

Also, he said A-level pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds should be given lower grade entry offers when they apply to university.

A spokesperson for the University of Sunderland said: “We have been working extremely hard over the past 20 years to ensure those with talent, regardless of background, are afforded the opportunity to enter higher education.

“We have been very successful over this time and are officially recognised as one of the top three leading universities in the UK for widening access for less advantaged social groups.

“We work extensively in primary schools, secondary schools, and further education colleges, stressing the importance and advantages of higher education.”

Councillor Robert Oliver, Sunderland’s Tory spokesman for education, said: “I think that targeting money at poor pupils to enable them to go to university is the right thing to do, but I would say that is already happening with the tuition fees system.

“But, doing more is a good idea.”

However, Coun Oliver disagreed that pupils from poorer backgrounds should be offered lower grade university places.

He said: “It is about academic selection and it’s not fair on other people whatever their background to be put at a disadvantage.”

MP for Washington and Sunderland West and shadow education minister, Sharon Hodgson, added: “Alan is absolutely right to point to the damaging and dogmatic decision to scrap the Educational Maintenance Allowance, EMA, as something which will prevent young people from less well-off backgrounds from pursuing A-levels and other qualifications, let alone then going on to uni.

“Universities have an important role to play in raising aspirations and supporting those young people to reach their potential, and this is an interesting suggestion.

“However, it’s hard to see how the higher education sector, which is really struggling, could find the hundreds of million of pounds a year needed to restore the grant to anywhere near the level the EMA was before the Coalition’s cut.”