Issue date: 02 February 2004

ISSUE DATE: 02/02/04

A study by researchers at the University of Plymouth and the University of the West of England has found that poorer students who receive full fee support are no more likely to drop out during their first year of University than those from better-off backgrounds.

In addition it was found that students who received financial help in the form of bursaries at the start of their course were more likely to continue with their studies than those who did not receive such help.

The paper by Arthur Baxter, Vanessa Fitzgerald, Andy Hannan and Sue Hatt on 'widening participation and the experience of students in higher education (HE)' looked at the experience of full-time first-year 'young' first-degree students at two 'new' universities, focussing on those with full fee support, in particular those with Opportunity Bursaries. Comparisons are made with other students in terms of continuation of their studies into a second year.

The performance of students with full fee support (parental incomes less than £20,000 pa) is found to be little different from that of other students, whilst the bursary seems to have a markedly positive impact (although there are institutional differences). The reasons for these findings are explored in preliminary interviews with students who have had bursary support.

Sue Hatt from UWE says, "It seems from this evidence that it is wrong to assume that students from low-income backgrounds are more likely to drop out than their peers. Given the current debate on expanding the bursary system for HE students who are financially disadvantaged, this research provides valuable information about the impact of previous schemes."

Andy Hannan from the University of Plymouth says, "It appears that bursaries, even those set at a modest level to cover some of the start-up costs of becoming a full-time student, can have a significant positive effect on student retention and progress."


Editor’s notes

Opportunity bursaries
Opportunity bursaries were announced by David Blunket in February 2000 as part of the 'Excellence Challenge'. They are worth £2,000 to students, £1,000 being given in the first year of study, £500 given in each of the second and third years. They are intended to encourage students from 'disadvantaged' backgrounds to enter HE. To qualify for the bursary students have to have been to a school in an Excellence in Cities initiative area or in an Education Action Zone. They also have to be the first in their family to enter HE, and have a household income of less than £20,000.

Full fee support
Students whose 'parental' family income is less than approximately £20,000 have their fee contribution to HE paid by their Local Education Authority under current arrangements. As family income increases, fee support is reduced. Students with a family income of approximately £30,000 will pay full fees.

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