OFFA report on bursaries and university choice

23 September 2010

Commenting on the publication of OFFA’s report ‘Have bursaries influenced choices between universities?’ Dr Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities, said:

“This report is a helpful contribution to the continued efforts of Russell Group universities to attract the very best students from every background. As OFFA notes, there has been a significant increase in students from disadvantaged backgrounds going to university since the introduction of tuition fees, but more needs to be done.

“As earlier OFFA research has shown, bursaries are one of the many tools Russell group universities deploy in our mission to help overcome the barriers students from low-income backgrounds face in gaining a place at a leading university and staying the course. For example, Russell Group universities also undertake a great deal of outreach work with schools and colleges, aimed at raising aspirations and attainment amongst young people from under-represented groups.  

“It is not surprising that bursaries have not had more impact on student choices. It is still only a few years since they were introduced, and understanding and awareness of the student support system, including bursaries, is still limited. Russell Group universities are working hard to help address this. However, educational achievement at school, rather than financial considerations, is the most important factor in whether a student will go onto higher education or attend a leading university. Misinformation, lack of confidence and misunderstandings about the costs and benefits of university education also contribute to the under-representation of students from lower-income backgrounds. Bursaries alone cannot be expected to address the many complex factors which affect access to the UK’s leading universities.

“This report will be useful to Russell Group universities as they plan the future targeting of all their activities to widen participation including bursaries, outreach, access schemes and more. We will consider the idea of fee waivers, but we have not seen any evidence that they will be more effective in widening participation than current initiatives. 

“Ultimately, however, the future ability of universities to provide financial support for their students and to devote to widening participation activities depends on the resources available to them. We are currently facing further severe reductions in funding. If we are to maintain world-class student experience and ensure it is available to all irrespective of background, our universities must be allowed to ask graduates to make a larger contribution to the costs of that high-quality education.”

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