Bursaries for disadvantaged students helping close performance gap, study finds

Issue date: 29 June 2018

Bursaries available to students at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) are proving highly effective at reducing disadvantage, new research has found.

Recipients are just as likely to earn a good degree or progress into a job as peers from middle income families, according to the first in-depth analysis of the impact of financial support for UWE Bristol students.

The bursaries are offered to under-represented groups – including care leavers and those from low income families – who are traditionally at greater risk of financial hardship and withdrawing from their studies.

Part of its sector-leading efforts to widen access to higher education, UWE Bristol invested £4 million last year in its bursary scheme to help 1,530 new undergraduates. A further £1 million has been pledged for 2018-19. Since the scheme began in 2012, more than 4,000 students have benefited from additional funding towards the cost of studying.

Suzanne Carrie, Head of Student Inclusivity at UWE Bristol, said: “It's enormously pleasing to learn that our bursaries, which benefit students from some of the most disadvantaged backgrounds in society, are having such a dramatic impact on outcomes.

“The results of this study show very clearly that bursaries are effective in reducing the disadvantage that students from low income households and other difficult backgrounds might face in succeeding at university.

“This represents a huge validation of the sector-leading approach we are taking at UWE Bristol and its long-standing commitment to boost social mobility, improve inclusivity and ensure students from all sections of the community can reach their full potential. There's still more to do but this is an important step forward.”

UWE Bristol offers £1,500 over three years to students from low income backgrounds and enhanced bursaries worth up to £5,000 for students who are carers, care leavers or estranged from their families. Other forms of financial support available include short-term loans, Learner Support Fund payments and placement cost short-term loans.

The study was conducted with a statistical analysis using data from 2011-12 and 2014-15 UWE Bristol entrants, a survey of 'funded' and 'unfunded' second year students and interviews with second year students.

The results suggest bursary students were:

· Just as likely to continue to their second year as students from middle-income

· families with no bursary

· Equally as likely to achieve good honours (first or 2.1) as students from middle income families

· As likely to progress to a positive graduation destination six months after graduation as students from middle income families with no bursary

· Less likely to work more than 17 hours per week in a paid job

· Less likely to have considered withdrawing due to financial reasons

Researchers said students in receipt of a bursary were more likely to be from a diverse background – including BAME, disabled, mature and Low Participation Neighbourhood - than the average for their cohort. Without a bursary, students from low income backgrounds at UWE Bristol were less likely to continue to a second year than students from middle income families, the research found.

Commenting on student comments captured in the study, Suzanne Carrie said: “Many students viewed the extra funding as a safety net, enabling them to take part in activities they otherwise couldn't afford.

“They told us the bursaries had instilled a sense of belonging and reported feeling appreciative towards the university for helping make their financial situation a little easier.

“It's been an immensely valuable exercise to gather student feedback and review the impact of bursaries in fine detail. We'll repeat the process at three-year intervals to ensure this funding is continuing to have such a positive effect.”

Student stories:

Aspiring designer Josephine Gyasi says financial support was a 'lifesaver' during her four years studying BSc (Hons) Creative Product Design.

The 24-year-old will graduate this summer with a first class degree and excellent career prospects having received a bursary of £1,000 per year as a care leaver.

In foster care as a teenager, Josephine chose to study at UWE Bristol in part due to bursaries it offers care leavers, carers and students estranged from their families.

She said: “I definitely needed it. Having the bursary coming in every three months was a lifesaver each time. It doesn't seem like a lot but it was really important.

“The bursary would either bring me out of my overdraft or allow me to travel home to London. It allowed me to do things I wouldn't have otherwise been able to do.”

At college, Josephine was discouraged from pursuing product design as it was considered too academically rigorous.

She said: “As a woman of colour, I believe it's important to follow your aspirations despite discouragement from your peers. My ambition was to study product design, enjoy myself and get a first. I wanted to prove to myself, as well as other people, I could do it, as well as change preconceptions of a white male-dominated industry.

“I went through the university options and chose UWE Bristol because the course had a placement year and a bursary scheme for people like me.”

For her final year project, Josephine created a natural beauty and skincare kit inspired by her African roots. Bearing Josephine's middle name, ABENA is aimed at helping people make skin care products at home in a fun and educational way.

Her work earned a Degree Show Project of the Year 2018 award, given to only three of 50 UWE Bristol product design students each year, and a coveted place at the prestigious New Designers exhibition in London where she will showcase her product alongside the brightest creative minds in the country.

Josephine urged prospective students from underrepresented groups to do their homework on the financial support on offer in higher education before making a choice.

She said: “I would recommend looking closely at what's available. I've never been one to pass up opportunities. Especially as a student at university, you need to make the most of every opportunity.”

Ivan del Vecchio's entrepreneurial drive has seen him create a successful business from his garage after being supported with bursary funding and mentoring at UWE Bristol.

The 23-year-old second-year Business Team Entrepreneurship student received a bursary from Santander and £1,000 from the university alongside dedicated mentoring support to help grow his online business, DJ Decks.

His business idea started with an initial investment of £1.20 in some DJ equipment, which he reconditioned and sold for £120. Seeing the potential for growth, he set up DJ Decks and used the bursary funding to optimise a website that has helped grow his start-up to a £50,000-turnover business.

“The support I've had for my business idea has helped me to keep it going over recent months and given me a base on which to grow,” said Ivan, who lives in Bradley Stoke, near Bristol.

“Being connected with great people who help you to set goals for your businesses has helped build my confidence and given me direction.

“Improving my website has helped me to sell equipment all over the world. I've had people from Brazil, Japan and Denmark visit the site and buy things, thanks to the investment made in it.”

Ivan's work at UWE Bristol was celebrated last year when he won the university's Entrepreneur of the Year award. The award recognises outstanding efforts by students working on its enterprise support programmes.

“I've always been passionate about my business,” added Ivan.

“This experience has helped me to build on that, and see that I can be successful after graduating.”


Notes to editors:

- UWE Bristol is one of the UK's largest investors in widening participation, committing £15 million this year to promote access and supporting students from diverse backgrounds. More than 1,600 new entrants to UWE Bristol each year come from areas with below-average levels of university attendance. In the latest figures issued by HESA (Higher Education Statistics Agency), UWE Bristol ranked 35th out of 122 English universities for the proportion of its full-time degree students originating from low participation neighbourhoods. Furthermore, a recent DLHE (Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education) report revealed only a one per cent difference between BAME students and white students achieving positive outcomes (graduate-level work or further study) after graduation at UWE Bristol.

- Students at UWE Bristol who are carers, care leavers or estranged from their families receive additional support from UWE Cares, a service which offers a designated point of contact from application to graduation. The service provides academic and pastoral support, careers and mentoring advice and help with accommodation as well as financial support.

Back to top