MANY poorer students will be shut out of Hampshire’s universities and colleges if a shock £6.5m funding cut goes ahead, the Government has been warned.
Academics and Opposition politicians have urged ministers to think again as the axe hangs over the vital Student Opportunities Fund.
The grants – which go to both universities and further education colleges – pay for extra support to recruit and retain students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Such help includes summer schools and extra tuition classes, through to helping to support internments and work placements with companies.
This year, institutions in Hampshire received a total of £6.54m from the department for business, innovation and skills (BIS).
The largest grant went to Southampton Solent University (£3.96m), followed by the University of Winchester (£1.23m) and the University of Southampton (£1.15m).
But FE colleges, including Sparsholt College, near Winchester (£202,473), also received significant amounts.
Now internal documents have revealed that Business Secretary Vince Cable is targeting the £327m fund in the search for savings to plug a £1.4 billion hole in his finances.
The draconian move comes despite Nick Clegg recently proclaiming that a drive to improve “social mobility” for the poorest was his guiding star.
The chairman of the Million+ group of mainly new universities has written directly to the deputy prime minister to protest.
Professor Michael Gunn said: “The Student Opportunity Allocation is the last remaining direct funding from Government to support universities which recruit students from a wide range of backgrounds.
“Social mobility does not stop at the school gate and there is simply no case to cut Student Opportun-ity funding in universities.”
A spokesman for Southampton Solent University said it was unable to comment until the position was clearer.
Liam Byrne, Labour’s universities spokesman, blamed the “complete mess” on funds being blown on giving loans to students at private colleges.
He added: “Now it looks like help for poorer students will be axed to pay for it.
“I’m deeply disappointed Vince Cable refused to pledge he would protect this vital help for poorer students to pursue their dreams by getting a good education.”
The controversy was raised in the Commons this week, when Dr Cable urged Labour MPs not to “rely on rumours”.
However, the Business Secretary stopped well short of denying the fund will be chopped for the 2014-15 financial year, as feared – and abolished after the 2015 general election.
Confirmation will only come when universities and colleges receive delayed letters from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE).
BIS is also considering converting £1,000 a year from the maximum £3,250 grant received by poorer students into repayable student loans.