“We are sending a clear message” – Vice-Chancellor as Oxford comes top for financial support

The poorest students coming up to Oxford in 2012 will find themselves better off than many of their counterparts at other English universities, according to a new independent body. Financial support for Oxford students with household income below £16,000 is to be the highest no-strings support of anywhere in the country.

The figures were collated by the Independent Taskforce for Student Finance Information, a government-backed independent body headed by money expert Martin Lewis, which published their findings online this week.

Oxford students can receive over £22,000 in bursaries and fee-waivers, which aim to reduce the burden of higher tuition fees that come into effect next year.

Other universities offer similarly high figures but based on further conditions such as socio-economic background and school type. The University said its package stands out because it is automatic and based on income only.

Vice-Chancellor Andrew Hamilton said: “We are sending a clear message: If you have the ability to study at Oxford, we’ll ensure money is no barrier.

“Our approach deliberately combines fee waivers and bursaries in order to provide successful applicants with the support they need – whether it’s help with upfront living costs or in overcoming possible longer-term debt aversion.

“Oxford is offering a world-class intensive tutorial education, and day-to-day costs are no more than at other universities – in fact, our world-class facilities and college provision keep costs down.

“With our educational excellence and our financial support package, Oxford represents not just quality, but affordability too.”

The University compares favourably with neighbouring Oxford Brookes, which like Oxford is charging £9,000 tuition fees next year. Oxford’s highest package is for all students with household income under £16,000. They receive £9,800 (£5,500 fee reduction plus a £4,300 bursary) in their first year followed by £6,300 for each subsequent year. The University estimates that one in ten undergraduates will fall into this category. Brookes’ highest package is for students from households earning below £5,000. They receive £4,500 for each year of their course.

However, when the income threshold is raised Oxford no longer stands out. It offers £4,000 followed by £3,500 for each subsequent year for all those with household incomes below £25,000. Warwick University offers £4,500 per year for this category.

OUSU Access VP Hannah Cusworth welcomed the help for the poorest and denied the “squeezed middle” was being abandoned: “A combination of government grants, student loans and the substantial Oxford bursary means that students who are slightly higher up the income scale will still be fully supported with living costs.”

All Oxford students with household income below £42,600 will be eligible for some support and one quarter of undergraduates are expected to fall into this category – 2,500 students based on current student numbers.

The first year of the new scheme will cost the University £11m but this will rise as more students arrive in later years. This figure is higher than access spending in previous years.

Exceeding the conditions for being allowed to charge over £6,000 fees, the University will spend 50 percent of its income from the “additional fee income” (the £3,000 difference between £9,000 and £6,000) on access, which includes financial support, outreach and student services – more than any other university in England.

Somerville Principal Alice Prochaska said: “Somerville is delighted to play a full part in the special benefits that the University of Oxford offers to our students. We are well in the top quartile of Oxford colleges offering special support to students in difficult circumstances.

“Over the years, Somerville students have expressed their gratitude for the help that has enabled them to complete their studies without financial hardship… No investment could be more worthwhile.”