From education to employment

Bedford College Set To “Bribe” Top Students With £1000 Bursary

Bedford College are offering students who show almost perfect attendance and receive 5 GCSEs at A*-B a £1000 bursary.

The move follows the success of the government’s Education Maintenance Allowances (EMAs) which are means tested and offer students £30 if they reach a certain level of attendance and punctuality.

The College, whose retention rate was 12% higher than the average were very impressed with the scheme and will look to expand it. They expect the bursary to work in a similar way, concentrating not only on increased student retention but also on increasing student recruitment. College principal Mr Ian Pryce argues that though there has been an increase in retention, there has not been an increase in the recruitment of students to the college. He believes that in extending the scheme to more students, without means testing, they could increase this retention rate further.

Keeping the Students

The scheme is seen as a response to the problem of students seeking employment and being tempted away from college by the prospect of earning money early, rather than continuing their education. Many students are now combining part – time or in some cases even full – time work with their studies. The College hope that an attendance – based scheme will help students study for longer so they get the best of both worlds, an advanced level qualification and a better job at the end of their course.

It has been said that this scheme could see Bedford College lure away the best students and not only increase their student numbers, but also achieve the best exam results. Mr Pryce claims that the bursary is not just about increasing student numbers in the college, as “Bedford college has always achieved our recruitment target rates”. In fact he claims that he doesnt expect the scheme to bring in that many more students.

Incentive for Hard Work?

However, he did admit that he expects some high achievers to look harder at their high level vocational programmes. He defends their scheme by adding they have the facilities to cater for gifted and talented youngsters and that it is impossible to fund all students, with the result that local students will be given the extra incentive to work harder for their GCSEs in the future.

Mr Pryce also argues that, far from competing with the likes of other colleges and sixth forms, he will share the data openly with schools and the LEA. If it is found that this scheme does not generate the benefits seen with EMAs or has unintended consequences, then he will reconsider it for 2006-7.

Counting the Cost

The scheme is set to cost the college £80,000 per year, funds that many sixth form colleges just cannot offer their prospective students. However, Mr Pryce continually argues that it is about retention not recruitment and he does not expect sixth form schools to be affected at all. “There are some good sixth forms in the local area and they serve a different market to the college”, he said. “I can understand a few schools feeling concerned about the scheme but this seems to be because some are experiencing financial difficulties generally. We have reassured them that any student better suited to a school environment will not be admitted, just as we have in the past”.

However, principals of other colleges have also slammed the scheme by saying it is just a form of bribery and students should not be paid to study. Mr Pryce has responded by saying: “I can also understand those who say students should not be paid to attend college. However, the success of the EMA scheme is hard to deny, and if we can get more students to stay on to take advanced vocational courses the local economy will see an enormous benefit. We can play a big role in bridging the academic/vocational skills divide.”

Claudia-Liza Vanderpuije

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