More than 205,000 lower income students receive bursary, says OFFA

More than 205,000 students from lower income and other under-represented groups received a bursary or scholarship in 2007-08, according to a report published today (Thursday 26 March) by the Office for Fair Access (OFFA).

In its second monitoring report, OFFA finds that universities and colleges spent £192 million on bursaries and scholarships for students from lower income and other under-represented groups in 2007-08 – the second year of the new student finance regime. More than 70 per cent of this £192 million was spent on the poorest students, helping some 133,000 students with a household income of less than £17,910. Typically, students in this group received a bursary of £1,000 a year.

In total, universities and colleges spent just over £219 million on bursaries, scholarships and additional outreach work into schools and communities – just under a quarter of the additional income they received from charging higher fees.

OFFA also reports that bursary take-up among students from the lowest income group improved significantly in 2007-08 – up from an estimated 80 per cent to around 90 per cent. It estimates that the number of students from the lowest income group failing to claim a bursary has almost halved from an estimated 12,000 per student intake in 2006-07 to around 6,500 in 2007-08. And it predicts that take-up will improve still further in 2008-09.

Other key findings are that:-

  • universities and colleges spent just under £27 million on additional outreach and widening participation activities – up £6 million from 2006-07
  • over half of universities and colleges spent more than 20 per cent of their additional fee income on bursaries and scholarships
  • 42 per cent of students across all universities and colleges received a bursary or scholarship
  • to OFFA’s knowledge, all eligible students who applied for a bursary through the correct channels have received one.

Sir Martin Harris, Director of Fair Access, said:

“These findings are very encouraging and demonstrate the continued commitment by the sector to making sure that students are not deterred from higher education on financial grounds.

“We are particularly pleased by the improvement in bursary take-up. The sector has worked hard to raise take-up and changes to the student finance application form should improve the situation still further in 2008-09. In the meantime, where take-up has been below expectations, some universities have chosen to make retrospective bursaries available or have reallocated funds to other widening participation measures.

“For our part, we have commissioned research into how institutions can best raise awareness of bursaries and will be publishing guidance on this in May 2009.

“Looking forward, this year we will be asking institutions to submit their access agreement monitoring returns for 2008-09 at the same time as they report on progress against their new Widening Participation Strategic Assessments.

“The combined reports will give us a much fuller picture of institutions’ fair access and widening participation commitments and should prove a useful development tool for the sector.”

For more information, please contact Zita Adamson, Communications Manager on 0117 931 7272/931 7171 or press@offa.org.uk.

Notes to editors

  • The Office for Fair Access (OFFA) was established under the Higher Education Act 2004. Our role is to safeguard and promote fair access to higher education by regulating the charging of higher fees. The main way we do this is by approving and monitoring access agreements.
  • All publicly funded Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in England that wish to charge tuition fees above the basic level have to submit an access agreement to us for approval. Access agreements show the fees that an institution intends to charge, its plans for bursaries and other financial support for lower income and other under-represented groups and, in some cases, additional outreach work.
  • In 2007-08 the basic fee was £1,225 and the maximum higher fee £3,070. The minimum bursary (payable by all institutions charging the maximum fee to full-time undergraduates receiving the full maintenance grant) was £305.
  • Our monitoring report only covers expenditure directed at our target groups – students from lower income and other under-represented groups. We know that HEIs spent at least a further £7 million on bursaries and scholarships for students who are not in OFFA countable groups. Similarly, many institutions invested in outreach work that fell outside their access agreements.
  • As stated in our report, we define ‘lower income’ as students with assessed household incomes below £48,330. This is £10,000 above the threshold for state support in recognition of the fact that some institutions were concerned that students who just missed out on state support might be deterred from HE on financial grounds.
  • Widening Participation Strategic Assessments bring together institutions’ widening participation and fair access commitments into a single document. The first Strategic Assessments (including access agreements as an annex) will be submitted to the Higher Education Funding Council (HEFCE) and OFFA in June 2009. Institutions will report against both their Strategic Assessment and access agreement commitments (for 2008-09) in December 2009.