Cornwall Council to Help Cornish Students

The cost of a person going on to Higher Education has always been a factor. In the past it was far easier to afford, but with the Government allowing Universities to triple tuition fees, this has made attending a University unaffordable to many families.

This issue has been raised by Cornwall Council’s Children’s Education and Families Scrutiny Committee (CSF OSC), and the Cabinet of Cornwall Council has also been well aware of the problem. The council has started to address this by making money available for travelling cost for students.

Now, the council is taking a further step (and a big step it is) in the right direction in addressing the issue of making more affordable. The council is proposing to introduce a scheme which could,  if approved, start in 2014. Initially £1m will come from existing resources to support the scheme in the first year, rising to £3m in 2016 / 2017. I am told the council is looking at funding sources post 2017.

So how will the scheme work? Well, for a start,  you need to be a resident of Cornwall for three years to qualify. If you meet the criteria, a pre paid card will be supplied which they can use to pay for an agreed range of goods and services that support the costs of learning and the hidden costs of studying at university. The amount of the payment has still to be confirmed,, but the current recommendation is for this to be set at £30. This can be topped up by parents, guardians and other family members. To be honest, whilst an one-off payment of £30 is nice, it is hardly going to make going to University more affordable. I feel it is a token gesture.

However, the real good news is students with a household income up to £42,600 can also apply for additional financial support from two further strands of funding. Both these areas of funding are discretionary and will be subject to several specific criteria, which includes the type of course to be studied (there will be a strong focus on economic priority subjects) and place of study, with funding specifically targeted towards students applying for the more selective universities and courses.

The two additional discretionary strands are:

  • Widening Participation – open to any student attending a non Sutton Trust 30 institution who meets the eligibility criteria. Eligible students will be able to apply for up to £1,200 per student living away from home (£900 per student living at home) over three years.
  • Raising Aspiration – open to any student attending a Sutton Trust 30 institution, who meets the eligibility criteria. Eligible students will be able to apply for £3,000 over three years.

I feel these two schemes will really make a difference in helping attending University more affordable. Of course it will not cover all the costs, but it will take the pressure off families who may struggle to find the extra money to help their children attend a University.

The proposed scheme will be discussed by members of the Council’s Children, Education and Families Overview and Scrutiny Committee (which I am a member of) on 13th July. Their views will then be reported to the Council’s Cabinet which will make the final decision. If approved (no doubt it will be) it is expected to support up to 4,000 students per year. Mature students will also qualify for these schemes which is a sensible step too.

So well done Cornwall Council in taking the lead in trying to solve this problem. Maybe other authorities will copy Cornwall Council, so other students in other areas will find attending University more affordable.

Free Travel to College

The brutal cut by the current Government to EMA has had a very deep impact on people being able to attend college. Cornwall Council has by means of the Cornish Bursary tried to address this. Sadly, as with most things today, there is not enough money to fully solve this issue.

However, the good news is Cornwall College will now be able to offer free travel to students whose household income is under £31,000 per year. This offer from the college is fantastic news and has been helped by the money given to the college from Cornwall Council’s bursary project.

Hopefully the free travel will enable more people to access the courses and education that might not otherwise happen because not being able to afford to attend, or travel to college.

This bursary for travel starts September 2012. Hopefully other colleges will follow suit.

Scrutinising the Cornish Bursary

The chance for Councillors of Cornwall Council to ask questions on the proposals for a Cornish Bursary took place today. Members of the OSC were requested to submit any questions prior to this meeting. This was to make sure detailed answers were provided. This did not mean further questions could not be asked. As many more were.

As I have said before, I think any scheme that helps young adults to stay in education is to be welcomed. Even with a good scheme, the job of the OSC is to make sure that scheme is fit for purpose, and if there are any doubts, these should be addressed before the scheme is implemented.

Many questions were asked included why Cornwall Council was only going to fund Level 3 courses (A-Levels, NVQ Level 3, BTEC etc). This is because the Government is providing £6m to cover Level 2 and under course. The Council felt this money would be better targeted in another area. In principle I can agree with this view, but my worry would be if any children miss out on level 2 course because there is not enough money from government.

The two questions I asked were on where this money for the first year was coming from, and how this scheme would be funded after the initial two year period. The first question was answered. It turns out there is some surplus in Convergence Money (skills funding agency). The council has checked to see the legal position on how this money could be spent. It turns out this surplus can be used for this scheme. Again, I welcome this.

The second question however did not have such a great answer. In fact, the answer got me quite angry and disappointed. You see, no money has been identified post the two year period. In a rather simplistic answer was ‘it would be the new councils problem.’ That point of the answer was the most upsetting. No matter how good a scheme it is let down by the simple fact of no, or very limited forward planning for funding!

Words of we will investigate areas of funding is hardly reassuring. If this scheme is such a good idea, then work now, before implementation, should be carried out; or at least highlighting possible areas of funding. This sadly was not the case.

After over two hours of debate with some very good point being made, as set of recommendations was made, and voted on.

  1. The Children, Education and Families Overview and Scrutiny Committee (CEFOSC) should endorse the proposal for the Cornwall Bursary and its implementation in 2012/13
  2. A review of should the bursary include those studying Level 2 qualifications
  3. Request a written report/questionnaire to be provided at the end of the year on how the money has been used and the impact of the scheme.
  4. The OSC will see the eligibility criteria of each provider
  5. Review of the education provision of the 14-19 offer in North and SE Cornwall
  6. On going review of the funds and report back to the OSC after the first academic term
  7. Director of CSF to investigate other forms of funding for those who fall into the trap of the Cornwall/Devon border.

I voted in favour of this scheme because it is a very good idea. Yes, there are some issues, the biggest being the future funding, but with the OSC chasing up this issue I am happy something will be done about it.

The Government has failed to provide adequate provision for a bursary/EMA, so it is left to the council to pick up this. If not, many young adults will not be in the financial position to further their education.

Cornwall Council should be congratulated for taking the lead, and no doubt other authorities will follow Cornwall Council’s lead.

A Cornish EMA and University Bursary?

Yesterday I blogged about the possibility of a Cornish EMA being part funded by Cornwall Council. Today, another announcement was made by the Leader of Cornwall Council during the awards ceremony for the Citizenship for Life programme.

This was huge, as the Leader said Cornwall Council could fund bursaries for Cornish students wishing to go to university. Now details are a little sketchy as the Leader did not say if you had to go to university in Cornwall or it would apply to any university.  However, this could be huge, and be a real chance for many to be able to afford to attend university. Especially for those from the less well off families.

In Cornwall we have an higher than national average exam pass rate, the downside is we have a below average take-up of people going onto university. One of the possible causes is the historic low pay in Cornwall. This leaves many families unable to afford to send and support their children thought university. Or students rack up massive debts whilst studying.

This if funded right could be a great program. The issue is how will it be funded? Through development? Tax? Setting up any form of bursary is not going to be cheap. It will need to be funded properly if it is to work. I just worry how it will be funded as everyone knows Government has cut grants to Councils; which has in turn resulted in Cornwall Council making painful decisions to reduce services.

It is certainly going to be interesting to hear how it is going to be funded, especially as the yearly budgetary discussions are fast approaching. Another question is, why haven’t backbenchers been briefed about this? After all, it is claimed there is a coalition in place at Cornwall Council and this proposal also crosses all political grounds.

So a further question is why have I only found out whilst eating my breakfast in a public award ceremony?

Cornwall Council to Part-Fund EMA?

At today’s Children School and Families Scrutiny Committee during questioning on the progress on the recommendations to Cabinet on Child Poverty (which I will blog about later) there was a interesting announcement.

This announcement (more like a slip of the tongue) could see Cornwall Council part fund the replacement to the EMA grant which the current Government ruthlessly cut. This announcement on the funding of a new EMA by Cornwall Council is interesting to hear, and I wait to hear of the details, and how it is going to be paid for at a later date.