At Queen Mary we are proud that we attract a very diverse student population. Over 90 per cent of our home students come from state schools, and more than 40 per cent are the first in their family to attend university. Bursaries are an important way of supporting students from financially disadvantaged backgrounds, and as a university, we spend a significant amount of money on them every year. Bursaries are only one way we help widen participation in higher education. Other ways include raising the aspirations of school students from under-represented backgrounds, and supporting the progression, success and wellbeing of students while they are here with us.
12 March 2018
The money for these activities is drawn from tuition fees. The government requires that about 30 per cent (over the first £6,000) of the university fee from home undergraduate students is spent on supporting students from under-represented and disadvantaged backgrounds to go to university, and to succeed while they are there. This works out as approximately £1,000 from the £9,250 full fee per year.
Until the very recent establishment of the Office for Students, we have been accountable to the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) on how this money is being spent through our Access Agreement (OFFA Access agreements August 2017 [PDF 1,792KB] for all higher education institutions and Queen Mary's Access Agreement). At Queen Mary, 88 per cent of this money is currently used for bursaries.
OFFA has conducted national-level research and has not been able to find a relationship between bursaries and continuation rates. The steer from them has been to move funding away from financial support and towards supporting the wider needs of students. Strategic guidance - Developing your 2018-19 access agreement [PDF 593KB]
We therefore conducted two pieces of research to examine the impact of this at Queen Mary. These pieces of research are detailed below and, in summary, showed us that an increase in bursaries would potentially have the greatest impact on those who come from families with the lowest household income levels, and that supporting the wellbeing of students, particularly those with the lowest household incomes, was an important part of whether they felt able to progress.
Following this, we proposed changes to the way we support students. These changes were recommended in 2017 by an internal group, which included QMSU sabbatical officers, and further approved by the Queen Mary Senior Executive (QMSE). They will apply to full-time home undergraduate students who start a programme at Queen Mary in the academic year 2018/19.
These are the details around the key changes:
The bursaries given to students already studying with us in 2017/18 will be unchanged as they progress. There is more information about bursaries at Queen Mary here: www.qmul.ac.uk/undergraduate/feesandfunding/bursaries.
The impact of the changes will be monitored as part of our evaluation of 2018/19 Access Agreement. Significant work with Schools is already underway to address differentials in teaching quality, and student and graduate outcomes.
In addition to the expenditure referred to above, which is measured through the Access Agreement, Queen Mary also provides additional support and provision for widening-participation students, including through its Student Opportunity Allocation from HEFCE, which offsets some of the costs of providing our Disability and Dyslexia Service, Student Financial Assistance (‘Hardship’) Funds, and supporting Schools’ student support activities.
What research influenced these changes?
OFFA has conducted national-level research and has not been able to find a relationship between bursaries and continuation rates. The steer from them has been to move funding away from financial support.
Two pieces of research were conducted to help inform discussions around how this might change the way we support students at Queen Mary:
Who examined the research and made the changes?
The research was examined and discussed in the 2016/17 academic year by the OFFA Access Monitoring Group and the Access Agreement Strategic Review Working Group, which were led by Professor Rebecca Lingwood, Vice-Principal for Student Experience, Teaching and Learning. The Students’ Union were valuable members of both these groups and participated fully in the discussions.
In light of the research, these groups, along with the Queen Mary Senior Executive, approved changes to the approach taken to the 2018/19 Access Agreement, including to the bursaries for incoming students from 2018/19, as detailed below.
Were students involved in the decision making around changes to bursaries?
QMSU sabbatical officers, as elected representatives of the student body, were members of the groups reviewing and preparing the Access Agreement for 2018/19.
What, specifically, are the changes to bursaries?
Are any of the student bursary funds spent on student recruitment?
No - none of the student bursary fund is spent on student recruitment.
Where is the additional money being spent?
The overall spend to support outreach, student success and progression for students from under-represented and financially disadvantaged backgrounds in 2018/19 will increase.
From the 2017/18 Access Agreement, 4.5 per cent of the total budget was used for ‘raising aspiration’ (supporting outreach activities). As directed by OFFA, an additional £250k has been allocated to support outreach work in the 2018/19 Access Agreement compared with the 2017/18 Access Agreement.
From the 2017/18 Access Agreement, 7.3 per cent of the total budget will be used for widening participation (WP) student success, engagement and retention activities. In line with OFFA’s advice, an additional £410,000 has been allocated to support WP student success and progression work in the 2018/19 Access Agreement compared with the 2017/18 Access Agreement, amounting to £1.13m to support student retention, success and progression.
Beyond the outreach, student retention, success and progression work and QMUL bursaries for students based on household income, the 2018/19 Access Agreement includes the following allocations:
What proportion of the total amount of student bursary funds will go to students with an annual household income of under £15,000?
86 per cent of the total student bursary funds given to 2018/19 starters will go to students with an annual household income of under £15,000. The rest of the bursary funds will go to students with an annual household income of between £15,001 and £30,000.
What steps has the university taken to monitor and mitigate the equalities implications of these cuts, specifically in relation to the diversity of the student body and attainment gaps?
The changes to allocations in the Access Agreement are relevant to 2018/19, when appropriate monitoring will be undertaken. Significant work with Schools is already underway to address differentials in teaching quality, and student and graduate outcomes.
Were student representatives asked not to discuss the research or changes to the Access Agreement?
No. We can also clarify that QMSU sabbatical officers and staff who were members of the group reviewing the Access Agreement for 2018/19 were not asked to sign non-disclosure agreements.
What was the total budget for widening participation in cash terms in 2016/17, 2017/18, and 2018/19?
Approximately half our home undergraduate students have Widening-Participation (WP) backgrounds and, therefore, much of our provision supports WP students. Only some of this is captured by our OFFA (Office for Fair Access) Access Agreements, which have the following total forecast expenditures:
What proportion of the total Access Agreement budget in 2017/18 was used specifically for bursaries? What proportion is being used for this specific purpose in 2018/19?
Of the total Access Agreement reported expenditure, the following proportions have been forecast for direct financial support via bursaries for students:
What proportion of the Widening Participation, Access Agreement or Bursary budgets are now being used to support the QMUL Model?
The Access Agreement makes reference to the QMUL Model (launched for first-year undergraduates in 2017/18) as our teaching and learning initiative intended to widen opportunities for our students given the large proportion from disadvantaged backgrounds, and to enhance the student experience and the positive societal impact our graduates make. The QMUL Model gives the environmental context but none of the budget is to be allocated to the QMUL Model.