On the money: bursaries help close student performance gap

A study of students at UWE Bristol reveals that bursaries for disadvantaged students narrows the gap in academic performance

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.

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 been given 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.

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.

“Many students viewed the extra funding as a safety net, enabling them to take part in activities they otherwise couldn’t afford.”

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.”

Case study: Josephine Gyasi

Product design graduate, Josephine Gyasi, on her natural skincare brand, Abena

The aspiring designer 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 and other people that 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 under-represented 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.”

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