University access spending might have risen but impoverished students are set to lose up to £83 million in bursaries and scholarships, education activists have warned.
The National Union of Students (NUS) yesterday baulked at the figures, gleaned from the latest report by the Office for Fair Access (Offa) on access deals with universities charging more than £6,000 per year.
Offa earlier this week hailed a headline-grabbing spending increase of £350m on disadvantaged students by 2015-16.
But the NUS warned that spending on scholarships and bursaries would plummet over the same period, from £358.5m in 2010-11 to £275.4m by 2015.
NUS president Liam Burns said that the shift in priorities simply reduced government borrowing figures at students' expense, branding it "nothing short of daylight robbery.
"Many of those students most in need of support will be failed as a direct result of a regulator that thinks we will get more poor kids into uni by cutting the cash in their pockets," he said.
"New leadership for Offa and a rethink of access agreements and student support cannot come a day too soon."
An Offa spokeswoman told the Morning Star that they did not recognise the union's figure but confirmed that a drop of at least £67.9m in bursary and scholarship spending once flexible "choice" programmes - which allow students to decide the format - were taken into account.
But increased spending on fee waivers would see overall access spending nearly double, she said, from £407.3m at present to £758m by 2015-16.
Fee waivers - which act as a discount on a student's total debt - have been heavily criticised by the NUS and other student organisations that argue only high-earners can hope to repay enough of their loan to benefit from it.
This latest clash follows the Student Loans Company's release of lending figures for 2011 last month, which revealed that of more than 3.2 million borrowers on income-contingent loans, just 20,800 had managed to repay their accounts in full by the beginning of the financial year.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills had not responded at time of print.
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