Higher education institutions (HEIs) have spent a quarter of their additional fee income from variable tuition fees on supporting lower-income and other disadvantaged students and on additional outreach work, according to a report published today (Thursday 24 January) by The Office for Fair Access (OFFA).
The report shows that in the first year of the new fee regime, HEIs spent almost £96 million on bursaries and over £20 million on additional outreach. At least 70,000 students from lower-income backgrounds have received bursaries.
“This is a superb effort and demonstrates the commitment by the sector to making sure that no student is deterred from higher education on financial grounds,” said Sir Martin Harris, Director of OFFA.
The report – ‘Access agreement monitoring outcomes for 2006-07’ – gives an overview of progress made in the first year of the new student finance arrangements. All universities and colleges with an access agreement are required to report annually to OFFA on their expenditure on bursaries and additional outreach work; bursary take-up; and their progress against the milestones they have set themselves to improve access.
The report contains strong evidence that the higher education (HE) sector is meeting its obligations and that good progress is being made to promote and safeguard fair access to higher education (HE) for under-represented groups.
Key findings are:-
• We are aware of no student who was entitled to receive a bursary and who applied through the correct channels who did not receive one
• A number of institutions experienced problems with bursary take-up, often because students failed to tick the box on their Student Finance application form, giving SLC permission to share information about their household income with their university or college
• Forecasting how many of their students would be eligible for bursaries was extremely difficult for institutions – this was one of the main reasons for the differences between predicted and actual expenditure on financial support
• Institutions have met, or made good progress towards, their outreach objectives
The report shows that there was an issue in respect of bursary take up, with perhaps 12,000 students on full state support failing to collect their bursaries, according to the latest data from the Student Loans Company.
Many institutions made strenuous efforts to maximise bursary take-up, says OFFA. For example, some set up help desks at registration to make students aware of their bursary entitlement as well as running extensive awareness-raising initiatives throughout the academic year. These included multiple email reminders and poster campaigns run together with Students Unions. Where OFFA feels institutions could be more proactive, it has advised them accordingly.
Why forecasting bursary expenditure was difficult
The report explains that forecasting bursary expenditure was difficult for institutions because at the time they were calculating their likely expenditure, the Government changed the income thresholds for eligibility for state support. Most bursaries are based on these income thresholds and the changes meant there was a lack of accurate data about the potential number of eligible students.
Given that they were dealing with a completely new scheme, many institutions sensibly forecast the maximum conceivable amount of expenditure for budgeting purposes so that all students entitled to receive a bursary would be able to do so. OFFA says this, together with take-up, are some of the main reasons why institutions spent almost £96m of additional fee income on financial support compared to an estimated £115m.
A good start
Looking ahead, Sir Martin urges the higher education sector not to become complacent but says he is pleased with progress made so far.
“All in all, this report shows the sector has made a really good start and I am confident we can build on this in future years.”
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Note to editors:
1. The Office for Fair Access (OFFA) was established under the Higher Education Act 2004. Its role is to safeguard and promote fair access to higher education by regulating the charging of variable tuition fees through approving and monitoring access agreements.
2. Access agreements show the fee limits an institution has established, its plans for bursaries and other financial support for lower income students and other under-represented groups, and, in some cases, additional outreach work. It also sets out the milestones and objectives the institution will use to monitor its progress in improving access.
3. The headline figures of bursary and outreach spend relate to higher education institutions (HEIs) only as the figures for further education colleges (FECs) and School Centred Initial Teacher Training providers (SCITTS) are very small and can distort the data.
4. The estimated 70,000 students referred to in paragraph two of the above release is calculated using Student Loans Company data with appropriate adjustments for withdrawal rates and consent to share rates. It is a conservative estimate as it does not include bursaries or scholarships where we cannot reasonably estimate the numbers of beneficiaries (for example, where the bursary thresholds are different to the state support thresholds). There are also further beneficiaries of bursaries and scholarships that fall outside our definition of low income students; we have no way of estimating these numbers.
5. The figure of 12,000 students referred to in paragraph seven of the above release represents students on full state support who have not consented to share their financial information and who are enrolled at institutions that are using the SLC Higher Education Bursary and Scholarship Scheme (HEBSS) to calculate bursary eligibility. Students at institutions that are administering their own schemes are not affected by not consenting to share their financial information. There may be students at these institutions who have not collected bursaries but we are not able to measure this at present.