Expensive and failing? The role of student bursaries in widening participation and fair access in England
Harrison, N. and Hatt, S. (2012) Expensive and failing? The role of student bursaries in widening participation and fair access in England. Studies in Higher Education, 37 (6). pp. 695-712. ISSN 0307-5079
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Publisher's URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2010.539679
English universities currently spend £355m each year on bursaries to student groups who are under-represented in higher education. However, there is little evidence to suggest that this investment has had any meaningful impact on patterns of student demand. This article examines the policy objectives of the 2004 Higher Education Act in the context of one of the policy tools that the Act implemented: an effectively mandatory bursary system operated locally by individual universities, designed to widen participation in higher education among students from lower socio-economic groups and ensure fair access to the highest status universities. It reviews evidence suggesting that students targeted for bursaries are unresponsive to financial inducements, and place a high priority on provision that is local and socially comfortable. It concludes that this is a fatal flaw in bursaries as a policy tool, contributing to slow progress on the widening participation and fair access agendas.
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