OFFA report shows bursaries are an 'effective tool' in attracting low-income students

03 December 2009

A groundbreaking report commisioned by the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) has found that bursaries and scholarships are helping students to overcome barriers to higher education.

Bursaries were an effective recruitment tool in ‘encouraging high-achieving lower-income students to opt for more selective universities and colleges’, concluded the report, which was carried out by Professor Claire Callender of Birkbeck, University of London, and the National Institute of Economic and Social Research. The report also urged that more needs to be done to improve awareness and understanding of the financial support available at universities

Welcoming the report, Dr Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group, said:

“Evidence clearly demonstrates that achievement at school before the age of 18 is the most important factor in determining whether a student will go on to university. However the Russell Group has been concerned for some time by evidence that some students may be put off applying to a Russell Group university as a result of misinformation, lack of confidence or misunderstandings about the costs and financial support available.

“As this report highlights, bursaries are a useful weapon in the battle to overcome barriers caused by lack of information and preconceptions and ensure that students from all backgrounds are encouraged to apply for a course and institution which is best suited to their abilities, and will maximize their life chances.

“Since the introduction of the fees regime, Russell Group institutions have greatly increased the amount of financial support given to students from low-income families through bursaries. Last year alone the Russell Group spent £45million on bursaries and outreach, and this figure is set to increase this year.

“We welcome the new good practice guidance issued by OFFA. It is encouraging that there is an increase in bursary take up for 2009 but there is still a lack of awareness and understanding about bursaries and scholarships. Russell Group universities are working hard to ensure that information about bursaries is being constantly updated and improved. The new Russell Group website will also serve as a handy doorway for students looking for information about the financial support available at all of our universities.

“It is still early days in the new system but if bursaries are to be an even more effective tool, we must ensure that parents, students and advisors are better informed about the range of support on offer.”

According to the report, take up of institutional bursaries for this year is likely to be around 96%, up from 80% in 2006-07.

Previous research from Professor Callender, has shown that a student from a low income background attending a Russell Group university received, on average, guaranteed bursarial support of £1,790. 

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