Understanding the impact of financial support on university access, support and success

Spacey, Rachel and Johnson, Jennifer (2018) Understanding the impact of financial support on university access, support and success. In: BERA Conference 2018, 11-13 September, Northumbria University.

Full content URL: https://www.bera.ac.uk/beraconference-2018

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Universities and Further Education Colleges in England wanting to charge higher tuition fees (fees above the basic level) for home/EU undergraduates must have an Access Agreement (AA) which is submitted to the Office for Fair Access (OFFA), the independent public body which regulates fair access to Higher Education (HE) in England. AAs detail “how institutions will spend a proportion of the fee income above the basic fee on financial support and outreach activities to maintain access for social groups underrepresented in higher education” (McCaig, 2015, p.5).

This presentation explores selected findings of the Access Agreement Evaluation Project (AAEP) at the University of Lincoln (UoL), England which aims to evaluate the university’s AAs. It focuses on the use of the OFFA toolkit in relation to evaluating the impact of financial support. The use of targeted financial support to widen access has been a stable strategic priority amongst HEIs (Bowes et al., 2013). In the academic year 2015/16, universities and colleges in England spent £725.2 million on access measures of which £447.5 million was spent on financial support including £428.8 million on bursaries, scholarships and fee waivers for lower income students and other under-represented groups and £18.7 million on hardship funds for students experiencing severe financial difficulties (OFFA, 2016b). At the UoL, UK/EU undergraduate students may be eligible to receive a number of different scholarships including, for example, the University of Lincoln Scholarship based on eligibility criterion of household income of less than £40,000 per annum, with a cash bursary provided for each year of study.

The OFFA toolkit project was designed to look in detail at the impact of universities AA financial support since some earlier projects had not found any evidence that institutional bursary schemes had an effect on either access or support (OFFA, 2016a). The toolkit (McCaig et al., 2016) involves analysis of existing Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) and Student Loans Company (SLC) data sets already held by HEIs. Analysis involves binary logistic regression within a quasi-experimental design where bursary holders comprise an experimental group and other students comprise a comparator group (OFFA, 2016c). In addition, the toolkit includes suggested survey and interview questions to better understand the role of bursaries and scholarships in relation to access, support and success (McCaig et al., 2016).

The AAEP adapted the OFFA tools to explore the impact of financial support amongst students from low income households. It included an amended version of the OFFA toolkit survey administered to all students in receipt of financial support in 2016/17 and hosted in Qualtrics which received more than 500 responses. Survey participants were asked to indicate on the survey if they were interested in taking part in further focus group research and the interview questions from the OFFA toolkit were adapted for use with the focus groups. We will present the findings of the AAEP based on analysis of institutional data from 2010 onwards in conjunction with survey and focus group data gathered in 2018 to explore the impact of financial support in relation to access to university, support and success at this post-1992, city university.


Bowes, L., Thomas, L., Peck, L., Moreton, R. and Birkin, G., 2013. The uses and impact of access agreements and associated spend. Report to the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) by CFE Research and Edge Hill University. Bristol: OFFA. Available at: https://www.offa.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Uses-and-impact-of-access-agreements-and-associated-spend.pdf

McCaig, C., 2015. Marketisation and widening participation in English higher education: a critical discourse analysis of institutional access policy documents. Higher Education Review, 48 (1), pp. 6-24.

McCaig, C., Harrison, N., Mountford-Zimdars, A., Moore, D., Maylor, U., Stevenson, J., Ertle, H. and Carasso, H., 2016. Closing the gap: understanding the impact of institutional financial support on student success. Final Project Report for the Office for Fair Access. Bristol: OFFA. Available at: https://www.offa.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Closing-the-gap-understanding-the-impact-of-institutional-financial-support-on-student-success.pdf

OFFA, 2016a. Evidence and Good Practice: Understanding the impact of institutional financial support. Available at: https://www.offa.org.uk/egp/impact-of-financial-support/

OFFA, 2016b. Press centre: Quick Facts. How much money do universities and colleges spend under their access agreements? Available at: https://www.offa.org.uk/press/quick-facts/

OFFA, 2016c. Understanding the impact of institutional financial support on student success: Coding workbook. Analysing your bursary data. Office for Fair Access. Available at: https://www.offa.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Institutional-Financial-Support-Coding-Workbook.pdf

Keywords:Higher Education, Widening participation
Subjects:X Education > X342 Academic studies in Higher Education
Divisions:Professional services > Lincoln Higher Education Research Institute
ID Code:33505
Deposited On:18 Oct 2018 14:44

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