OFFA appoints team led by Sheffield Hallam University to research the impact of financial support

The Office for Fair Access (OFFA) has appointed a research team led by Sheffield Hallam University’s Centre for Education and Inclusion Research (CEIR) to investigate the impact of the financial support that universities and colleges give to students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Led by Dr Colin McCaig at Sheffield Hallam, the team also includes academics and administrative staff from the Universities of Oxford and Bedfordshire, the University of the West of England, King’s College London and an advisor from the National Union of Students (NUS). [note 1]

The project will improve evaluation and understanding of the impact of financial support such as bursaries and scholarships on student success – in other words how, and to what extent, financial support helps students to stay on their courses, achieve a degree that reflects their full potential, and prepare to progress to a job or further study after graduation.

The project will develop a set of common evaluation measures and survey questions designed for all universities and colleges to use. These measures and survey questions will be piloted over academic year 2015-16. If successful, they will eventually be adopted across the higher education sector, enabling long-term improvements in evaluation methods, comparability and understanding about the impact of financial support on student retention and success.

The team’s findings will influence the guidance that OFFA gives to universities and colleges about their access agreements for academic year 2017-18 onwards.

This work is part of a longer-term OFFA project on the impact of financial support, which has also included a conference, publications and a call for evidence from universities and colleges. [note 2]

Professor Les Ebdon, Director of Fair Access to Higher Education, comments:

“This project is a key aspect of OFFA’s ongoing work to help build and share evidence about widening participation, so that access agreements can be more strategic and evidence-led.

“We commissioned this research in response to a pressing need for more evidence about the role of financial support in supporting disadvantaged students, who tend to face more challenges than others in completing their courses and progressing to employment or further study. Universities and colleges give substantial amounts of bursaries and scholarships to students each year, and more evidence about impact will help them to be sure they use that investment to best effect.

“Although it is not realistic to expect this single project to provide a definitive guide to ‘what works’, we do anticipate that its research findings, and the practical tools it will provide for universities and colleges to use, will underpin much better evaluation and understanding in the longer term.

“We are very pleased to have appointed such an eminent team for this important project. Collaborating with researchers is a new way of working for OFFA and we hope to do more of this in future.”

Colin McCaig added:

“Sheffield Hallam is delighted to be heading up this significant study into how financial support is helping less well-off students to achieve their ambitions.

“As a University with a strong record of attracting first-time students from a variety of backgrounds, these results will inform our own thinking as well as genuinely shaping national policy across the higher education sector.”

CEIR is part of Sheffield Hallam’s new Institute of Education, which launches early next year and will house the University’s teacher education and educational research facilities.

For further information contact

OFFA: Zita Adamson or Sophie Mason on 0117 931 7171 or email

CEIR, Sheffield Hallam University: Laurie Harvey on 0114 225 2621 or 07825 049568 or email

Notes to editors

  1. Full list of project team:
    Dr Colin McCaig (Principal Research Fellow, Centre for Education and Inclusion Research, Sheffield Hallam University)
    Professor Jacqueline Stevenson (Head of Research, Sheffield Institute for Education, and Governing Council member and Chair of the Society for Research into Higher Education’s Research and Development Committee)
    Dr Anna Mountford-Zimdars (Lecturer in Higher Education, King’s College London)
    Dr Helen Carasso (University of Oxford)
    Dr Hubert Ertl (Associate Professor of Higher Education, University of Oxford)
    Den Moore (Deputy Director of Student Administration, University of Oxford)
    Dr Neil Harrison (Senior Lecturer in Education, University of the West of England)
    Professor Uvanney Maylor (Director, Institute for Research in Education, University of Bedfordshire)
    Sarah Kerton (Higher Education Policy Consultant, National Union of Students).
    The project’s “critical friends” include Professor Rich Harris (Professor of Quantitative Social Geography, University of Bristol) and Dr Marie-Pierre Moreau (Reader in Education, University of Roehampton).
  2. More information about OFFA’s work on the impact of financial support is available on our website. See also OFFA publication 2014/02, An interim report: Do bursaries have an effect on retention rates?.

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