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Poor Bristol students told to get a job

Bristol will become the least affordable English Russell Group university for students from low-income backgrounds from 2012, research by a student newspaper has found.

Students from low-income backgrounds will have to find other ways of funding their degree at the university after the institution cut its bursary system for people from poorer families.

One-third of Bristol students currently receive a sum of up to £1,260 a year to cover the cost of studying at the university; but this system will be scrapped for next year.

The move comes despite the fact that all other Russell Group universities, including the University of Manchester, have committed to ring-fencing their bursary systems despite funding changes due to take affect next year.

In a briefing to University Council members on the new access measures, the university states that the purpose of the change is, “to send a simple message to students from the lowest income families that they will pay no more in fees than they do now.”

“Our Student Recruitment team believes the key message that has been heard by prospective students, particularly those from the poorest backgrounds, is about tuition fee debt and our fee waiver packages are intended to address this.”

However, it has been contested that since fee waivers don’t affect students until long after graduation they offer little support to students while they are actually studying at the university.

Bristol’s access agreement suggests that students who would have needed a bursary to cover their living costs while at university should find part-time work to make up the shortfall.

While the access agreement used to state that students eligible for state support would have sufficient funding to cover “normal maintenance costs”, the new agreement instead says that, “state support…and some part-time working should comfortably ensure that eligible students have sufficient funding at their disposal.”

It has been argued that poor students shouldn’t need to work in order to live and study in Bristol because this unfairly benefits wealthier students, who will be able to dedicate more time to their studies and participate in clubs and societies.

Stephen Williams, MP for Bristol West, told Bristol University’s student newspaper, “Students should be able to take part time jobs while at university in order to supplement their income, but it shouldn’t be necessary for them to work in order to meet the basic costs of studying at Bristol. Working for long hours would be to the detriment of study and it would not be fair for students from richer backgrounds to be able to devote all the time that they wish to study and so obtain a better degree result than their poorer compatriots.”

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