IMPOVERISHED students at different colleges, and even some at the same college, will receive widely differing amounts of public money under new access fund arrangements.
Inner-city colleges are being offered extra money to help students stay on their courses by paying for items like transport, books and equipment. The money is intended to encourage more people from disadvantaged backgrounds to take up courses.
But outside inner cities, some colleges have seen big cuts in student support cash. Where local authorities previously gave generous support, this will lead to awkward inconsistencies, according to Kevin Conway, principal of Greenhead College: "Students in our upper sixth are getting pound;560, but in the lower sixth they will be getting pound;260, and students in some of the high schools will be getting about pound;500," he said.
David Heaton, principal of Queen Elizabeth sixth form college in Durham, said students at his college had received about pound;35,000 from the local authority last year, but would only get pound;20,000 from the access fund this year. He said: "We are keen to support widening participation but this instrument of policy runs contrary to that objective."
College principals are worried not only about students in rural areas, who need help with transport costs, but also about competition from school sixth forms, who have had details of their access fund arrangements and what they can offer potential students since the beginning of this year.
They also pointed out that the new funding arrangements failed to eliminate old inequalities that they were meant to end.
"How am I going to say to my students, 'you are going to get almost nothing', when in the next borough they are getting pound;700?" one principal asked.