Bursaries boost chances of a graduating with a ‘good degree’

Image credit: John Walker

The larger the bursary a student receives at the undergraduate level, the more likely they are to get a good degree, a new study has found. Students from the most deprived backgrounds benefitted the most.

The study was undertaken by Gill Wyness, lecturer in the economics of education at the UCL Institute of Education and Richard Murphy and an assistant professor of economics at the University of Texas at Austin.

They found that for each additional £1,000 of financial aid awarded to undergraduates at nine English universities increased their chance of getting top marks (a first or a 2:1) by 3.7 percentage points.

About half of this was due to better retention, and the rest to higher test scores. The study also revealed that a £1,000 increase improves students’ likelihood of completing the first year of their degree by 1.4 percentage points alone. “We shouldn’t write bursaries off,” said Dr Wyness, adding, “Our results show that bursaries are effective and that universities could get more out of them by targeting them more effectively.”

The impact of bursaries varied significantly accross the socio-economic spectrum. Bursaires had a six times greater on students from deprived backgrounds, than the group as a whole.

Additionally, those arriving at university with better grades benefitted 2 - 3 times more than their lower achieving peers.

These finding contadicts a 2014 Office for Fair Access report, which stated that bursaries had no impact on whether poor students finished their degees.

The study comes in at a time when the Labour Party has spoken out in Parliament against the decision to replace maintenance grants with loans. “The decision to replace the grant with a loan was sneaked through the back door by the Government and was not subject to a full vote and proper scrutiny,” said Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner, adding, “I hope there will be cross-party support at the vote to bring back grants.” The changes have meant around 5,000 students at Anglia Ruskin University and 2,000 at Cambridge University lost out.

The IoE working paper is based on data for 35,879 UK and European Union students provided by English higher education institutions, the researchers believe that their findings will prove applicable for educational institutions around the globe. In the sample, the size of the bursaries provided ranged from £50 to £3,200 per individual, with an average value of £775.

This comes after research in 2015 revealed that bursaries vary significantly by institution, with bursaries inside the Russell Group averaging at £1,250 annually, compared to £680 for institutions outside the group. 

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