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Universities need to better understand impact of financial support

Universities need a better understanding of the impact of the financial support they provide to ensure their schemes have the greatest impact, an Office for Fair Access report has concluded.

Research by Nursaw Associates, commissioned by OFFA, found that financial support was not the most significant determinant in students' decisions to apply to university or in their choice between institutions.

However, a survey of institutions appears to show a sizeable minority of students who felt that the availability of bursaries, scholarships and fee waivers did affect their decision making. A report on the findings, What do we know about the impact of financial support on access and student success?, says some students felt financial support enabled them to stay on course in their studies and made them less likely to drop out than their peers.

Universities spend more than £400 million a year on financial help for poorer students. The report warns that the way in which schemes operate could limit their impact because of the complexity of arrangements, the variety on offer, the timing and availability of information, and a lack of coordination with outreach activity.

“One thing is very clear, considering the importance that the sector places on financial support and the investment it places in it, there remains limited research into its impact,” the report says. “The sector needs to understand more fully where and how to invest in order to continue to improve access to higher education and ensure students are successful in (and beyond) their study.”

OFFA has commissioned a two-phase project to develop and pilot resources that can be used by universities to improve the understanding and evaluation of the impact of financial support on student success.