Research questions usefulness of bursaries

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OFFERING local students bursaries to go to university has no impact on whether they will continue their studies, according to new research.

A report concluded that current evidence suggests the size or how available bursaries are has “no observable effect” on whether a young person stays at university.

The most significant factor in predicting whether a student will continue studying or drop out is their previous exam results, the study adds.

The research, published by the Office For Fair Access (OFFA), analysed data on young, full-time first degree students who were eligible for bursaries between 2006/07 and 2010/11 - before tuition fees were trebled to a maximum of £9,000 - and whether they were still studying the year after starting their studies.

During this period, universities and colleges that wanted to charge top-up fees of up to £3,000 were required to offer bursaries to poorer students as part of a bid to ensure that these youngsters were not put off higher education. This financial support was generally worth between a few hundred pounds and more than £4,000, OFFA said.

The watchdog’s report reveals that in 2010/11, 3.8% fewer students from the poorest homes - those with incomes of less than £25,000 a year - continued their studies compared to youngsters from the richest families - those with annual incomes of more than £50,020.

But it concluded that bursaries offered by universities during this time period had no effect on whether students continued studying.

“We have not found any evidence that institutional bursary scheme in operation between 2006-07 and 2010/11 had an observable effect on the continuation rates of young, full-time, first degree students,” the study says.

It adds: “There is evidence that a student’s prior attainment is the most significant factor in predicting the likelihood that they will continue their studies.

“Generally, the better a student’s A-level results, the more likely they are to continue with their studies after they enter higher education.”

The students who were most likely to still be studying the following year after starting their course were those who scored four A grades at A level - equivalent to 480 UCAS points, with just 1.3% dropping out.

In comparison, 13.9% of those that had between 0 and 100 UCAS points were no longer studying a year after starting their course.