THE BLOG

Students' Letter to Nick Clegg

02/12/2011 22:14 GMT | Updated 01/02/2012 10:12 GMT

Yesterday the Office for Fair Access announced that a total of £70m will be taken from students' pockets to fund the con trick of fee waivers. In response the National Union of Students has sent a letter to Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, calling on him to address our National Conference in his constituency town of Sheffield next year. The letter is co-signed by dozens of elected student officers and you can read it below:

Dear Mr Clegg,

You will no doubt remember that last year, days before the vote in the House of Commons to raise student fees to £9,000 per year, you said that a university would only be able to charge more than £6,000 per year in "exceptional circumstances". This turned out to be wrong, and too many universities wanted and were permitted to charge the upper limit.

You will also recall creating a £150 million National Scholarship Programme to help poor kids to into university. The net result of the changes in effect means that none of the £150 million National Scholarship Programme will end up in students' pockets; it will all be swallowed up in fee waivers or reductions in university bursaries. Our figures reveal that in fact some £13.8 million less in bursaries and scholarships will reach students' pockets in 2015 as a result of your changes.

As it dawned on the government that the costs of lending would be far too high, the rules of the game were changed, so that 20,000 places would be moved to institutions charging less than £7,500. Inevitably, the universities that have responded to this threat to their stability are those with the highest numbers of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Far from striving to 'ensure fair access', this has resulted in a 'reverse pupil premium', where those universities that take on the most students from disadvantaged backgrounds are forced to spend less on their students as a result.

How have these universities managed to reduce their average tuition fee level? By diverting cash away from the pockets of students going to university next autumn, and instead to the Treasury - against the advice of your own access tzar, Simon Hughes. The reason that they have done so is simple - the government have not only permitted but incentivised this behaviour.

The release of data from the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) shows that the total being spent on bursaries by universities has dropped by a further £13.8 million (per year), which is in addition to the anticipated £55 million fall in bursaries by 2015/16 already announced in September.

Most frustrating of all is that you know that because a graduate will have their loan written off after 30 years, your own government has said that little more than 60% are likely to pay back their loan in full - and these will be those graduates who earn the highest salaries. This means that, other than for those higher earners, partial fee waivers are completely fictional; they never exist from the perspective of the graduate. Lower earners do not benefit by a single penny, but the Treasury gets to spend less on subsidising loans.

This means that partial fee waivers are nothing more than an accounting con trick: one that allows universities to keep a higher sticker price on their courses, enabling them to retain their 'top trump' score in the games of prestige, whilst at the same time reducing the burden on the Treasury.

We do not believe that these perverse results of the government's market system were intended, but they are the reality - and unless and until steps are taken to address these issues, students will continue to regard the government, and your party, with disdain.

You may know that next year, in our 90th year, our National Conference will be held in Sheffield. As a result, we would like to invite you to the conference next April to explain to delegates the decisions you have taken and to answer the many questions and concerns students across the country have.

I look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely,

Liam Burns, President

National Union of Students

Jacob Kitchiner, President

Sheffield Hallam Students' Union

Thom Arnold, President

University of Sheffield Students' Union

Joe Vinson, President

Cornwall College Students' Union

David Howells, President

University of Bath Students' Union

Rob Scully, President

City University London Students' Union

Thomas Hollick, President

City College Norwich Students' Union

David Cichon, President

University of Sussex Students' Union

Terry Preston, President

Brighton Student' Union

Sam Grayson, AU President

St Marys University College Twickenham

Reni Eddo-Lodge, President

University of Central Lancashire Students' Union

Colin Offler, President

University of the West of England Students' Union

Karl Hobley, President

Reading University Students' Union

James Haywood, President

Goldsmiths Students' Union

Caroline Dangerfield, President

University of Salford Students' Union

Liam Davis, President

De Montfort Students' Union

Aidan Mersh, President

Hull University Union

Jonathan Wright, President (Education & Engagement)

University Campus Suffolk Union

Sean Ruston, Aldwych Group Chair and Warwick SU Education Officer

Oliver Deed, Chair

University of Surrey Students' Union

Sam Lewis, President

Worcester Students' Union

Paul Mason, President

Oxford Brookes Students' Union

Rebecca Bridger, President

Loughborough University Students' Union

Matte Andrews, President

Glasgow Caledonian University Students' Association

Leigh Hankinson, President

York St John Students' Union

Oeiisha Williams, Education and Welfare Officer

Birmingham City Students' Union

Matt McPherson, President

Edinburgh University Students' Association

Rosie O'Neill, Welfare & Rights Officer

Cambridge University Students' Union & Graduate Union

Alex Causton-Ronaldson, Chair of the Trustee Board

University of the Creative Arts Students' Union

Jason Smith, Student Council Chair

University of Central Lancashire Students' Union, Preston campus

Ben Jackson, Education Officer

Leeds University Union

Luke Frost, Chair of the Executive Committee

University of the Creative Arts Students' Union

Emma Meehan, Vice President Societies and Activities

Edinburgh University Students' Association

Ellis Jones, Vice President, Academic Experience

Oxford Brookes Students' Union

Tash Ross, Community and Student Rights Officer

Union of University of East Anglia Students

Mat Denton, Welfare Officer

University of Sheffield Students' Union

Philippa Faulkner, Vice President Services

Edinburgh University Students' Association

Godfrey Atuahene Junior, Vice President (Education and Democracy)

University of Portsmouth Students' Union

Mike Williamson, Vice President Academic Affairs

Edinburgh University Students' Association

Dean Smith

University of the Creative Arts Students' Union

Ben Cronin, Welfare Officer

City College Norwich Students' Union

Naomi McKay, Vice President

Wakefield College Students' Union

Mark Sewards, Communications and Internal Affairs Officer

Leeds University Union

Craig Best, Vice President Academic Representation

Union of Brunel Students

Emma Baker, Publicity Officer and Vice President-elect

Bridgwater College Student Union

Josee Tisdale, Further Education Officer

City College Norwich Students Union

Sam Higham, Vice President (Education)

Keele University Students' Union

Phil Pocknee, Vice President (Welfare)

Hull University Union

Izzy John, Welfare Officer

University of Warwick Students' Union

Clare Keogh, Women's Officer

Kingston University Students' Union

Rachel Wenstone

NUS Anti Racism Anti Facism Co-Chair

Kanja Sesay

NUS Anti Racism Anti Facism Co-Chair

Fiona Wood, Mature Students Representative

NUS National Executive Council

Chloe Parkin

Chester University Students' Union

Ivan Nicholls

Newcastle University Students' Union

Ben Fisher, Community Officer

Leeds University Union

Pat Plested, Canterbury Campus Officer

University of the Creative Arts Students' Union