OFFA report on university access measures

03 August 2010

Commenting on the publication of OFFA’s monitoring outcomes report for bursary, scholarship and outreach spending by universities, Dr Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities, said: 

"Russell Group universities are determined to ensure that talented students from every background receive all the support – financial or otherwise – necessary to benefit from our universities. This report highlights the major investment that English Russell Group universities are making in bursaries, scholarships and outreach.
“In 2008-9 alone Russell Group universities in England spent £66.5 million of their additional fee income on bursaries. This represents an average of £4.2 million per institution with some of our universities spending as much as £9 million. Overall, this amounts to over £1.5 million more per institution than the sector average.
“Russell Group universities greatly exceeded OFFA’s requirements yet again. Over 31,000 students from the very poorest backgrounds attending Russell Group universities received bursarial support averaging £1,523. This is nearly five times the minimum bursary of £310 required by OFFA.  Overall, about a third (31.8%) of Russell Group university students received a bursary or scholarship.  
As earlier OFFA research has shown, bursaries are one of the effective tools Russell group universities deploy in our mission to overcome the barriers students from low-income backgrounds face in succeeding in gaining a place in more selective universities. However, it is always important to remember that educational achievement at school, rather than financial considerations, is the most important factor in whether a student will go onto higher education.  Misinformation, lack of confidence and misunderstandings about the costs and benefits of university education contribute to the under-representation of students from lower-income backgrounds.
“Our universities have also dramatically increased the amount of money committed to outreach and widening participation from additional fee income. This is in addition to the very large sums already committed to outreach from existing budgets.  
“Fee income enables individual universities to determine their additional expenditure on bursaries, scholarships and outreach, according the make-up of their student body and their own institution’s priorities for widening participation and recruitment.  As recommended in the OFFA report, Russell Group universities will continue to review their bursary and outreach work, to ensure that they target the right students and strike the most effective balance between outreach and bursaries.  

“Calls for a ‘national bursary scheme’ are misguided. The current system of student support in England is one of the most generous in the world. We already have a ‘national bursary scheme’ in the form of guaranteed levels of support for disadvantaged students through government grants and subsidised loans. To suggest that it is somehow wrong for universities to then choose to top up this support with bursaries that far exceed the amount originally required by OFFA seems profoundly misguided. A ‘national bursary scheme’ would create many losers and few winners as there would be relatively small increases to a standard bursary but many high-achieving, low income students would lose out on substantial support currently available.
“In the future, if they are to maintain world-class teaching, research and student support, universities must be allowed to increase the level of fees paid by graduates above current levels [3]. This would provide universities with more resources to recruit and support students from under-represented groups, and to ensure that all students, regardless of family background have fair access to the UK’s leading universities.”

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