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Planned changes to bursaries for students and our Access Agreement

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.


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 total expenditure reported via our Access Agreements on widening participation and supporting students from under-represented and disadvantaged backgrounds is forecast to increase in 2018/19 by 0.4 per cent to £10.20m.
  • While the total amount we spend on bursaries will decrease slightly in 2018/19 (by £317,000), the value of bursaries for new students with the lowest household income (under £15,000) – over 30 per cent of our home undergraduate students – will increase from £1,500 to £1,700 per year.
  • Within the overall increase in forecast expenditure in 2018/19, the amount allocated to support outreach and student success and progression for students from under-represented groups and disadvantaged backgrounds will increase, as we refocus our efforts on more effective ways to support students who need the most assistance.

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:

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.

Answers to frequently asked questions

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:

  1. Impact of Financial Assistance Measures on Progression report: In 2016, research was undertaken into the impact of our bursary spend – details of the sample and methodology are included in the report. Final Impact of Financial Assistance Measures on Progression - September 2016 [PDF 1,021KB]
  2. Undergraduate Student Finance Survey 2016: Results and Analysis report: We also referred to the results of a student survey that was undertaken with undergraduate QMUL students in March 2016, about how they fund their studies and how financial issues impact on student wellbeing and university experience. Final Undergraduate Student Finance Survey 2016 Results and Analysis [PDF 1,276KB]

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?

  • We have increased the amount of money students receive in the QMUL bursary for those who come from families with an annual household income of £15,000 or below. This increases the bursaries from £1,500 to £1,700 for these students and benefits over 30 per cent of our home undergraduate students.
  • We have decreased bursaries for students who come from families with an annual household income of between £15,001 - £30,000 to £750 from between £1,250 - £1,500 (depending on whether their household income was above or below £25,000 respectively), which affects about 11 per cent of our home undergraduate students.
  • We have reduced the upper boundary or threshold for those who can receive a bursary, from an annual household income of £42,000 to £30,000. It is quite unusual for a university to provide a bursary for students with a household income of around £42,000.
  • The total amount we forecast spending on financial support will reduce by six percentage points, from 88 per cent in 2017/18 to 82 per cent in 2018/19.

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.  

  • In early 2018, we met with colleagues including sabbatical officers of the Students’ Union to discuss how to use the additional funds. In that meeting, we agreed that £50,000 of the extra £250,000 will be used to enable us to join the national Realising Opportunities. The rest will be used to support our widening participation activities. Examples of these activities are described in the widening participation and outreach yearbook (2016/17). Widening Participation and Outreach Yearbook 2016-17 [PDF 2,252KB]
  • We will work closely with years 6 to 13 at the two (east London) multi-academy trusts sponsored by Queen Mary, working with students and teachers, and also with primary-age children with activities such as coding clubs and reading challenges.
  • We will continue to deliver long-term projects such as Bridge the Gap, an access to medicine and dentistry programme, which is focused on targeted secondary schools and colleges and their feeder primary schools, and aims to raise aspirations and awareness of medicine and dentistry as career pathways among students from groups that are significantly under-represented within the profession.
  • We will also deliver a broad outreach programme targeted at (primary, secondary and post-16) students from less-advantaged socio-economic groups, students from low-participation neighbourhoods and students who are the first in their family to consider university.
  • We will continue to enhance our work to support young people in care and care leavers; for example, we have outreach events (with local authorities) for young people in care and we have a defined package of support (including some financial support) for prospective students, and proactively contact students (declaring via the UCAS application) with details of the support available.

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.

  • We agreed in the meeting with QMSU representatives mentioned above that priorities for this allocation of £410,000 for 2018/19 would be discussed further with the Students’ Union through the established decision-making groups. As an example, however, given its positive effect on student retention and wellbeing, QMSU has already agreed that financial support to facilitate WP students’ participation in sport would be beneficial.
  • Specific engagement, retention and success interventions undertaken by academic Schools and Professional Services will be reportable under the 2018/19 Access Agreement. For example, these include a focus on areas such as monitoring student engagement, measuring and closing attainment gaps for students from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, and investigating potential differences in outcomes for students who have BTEC-entry qualifications, developing staff in academic advising roles, seeking to enhance the first-year experience to improve the transition into higher education, and supporting students in achieving good honours degrees and graduate-level employment. A specific area of focus for progression work (led by Careers & Enterprise) is to target students in receipt of a bursary for additional support in securing graduate-level jobs. Projects include QConsult and QMentoring.
  • QMSU will run multiple schemes, including those to support the transition to university, enhancing retention and success, including the peer-mentoring scheme and the halls of residences representative scheme. QMSU will also run the QM Skills Award to help students reflect on the skills they have developed in the context of their future employment or progression to further study.
  • Some of the support we provide for disabled students, including those with mental health difficulties and specific learning difficulties, such as dyslexia and dyspraxia, from the point of application through to graduation, is reportable via the Access Agreement. We have a range of mental health specialists and fully fund diagnostic assessments for students suspected to have learning difficulties (£55,000 per annum). We fund mental health first-aid training for staff and provide human resources for support activities such as note-taking. (£50,000 per annum).

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:

  • £50,000 for Article 26 bursaries to support asylum seekers, children of asylum seekers or those holding Discretionary Leave to Remain in the UK. This covers fee waivers plus maintenance support. In addition, all asylum seekers or children of asylum seekers are eligible to pay the 'home rate' of tuition fee while their asylum application is under consideration by the Home Office.
  • In 2018/19, QMUL will commit funding for two further bursaries for Article 26 students outside the Access Agreement.
  • £250,000 to provide assistance for students who may need extra financial support to access and remain in higher education. The fund will be used to assist students who need extra financial help to meet specific costs that are not already met from statutory or other sources (including to account for recent changes in the Disabled Students’ Allowance), to help students in financial hardship by providing emergency payments for unexpected financial crises, and to intervene in cases where a student may be considering giving up their course because of financial problems.

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:

  • 2016/17: £9.03m (29.6 per cent of additional fee income over £6,000).
  • 2017/18: £9.86m (30 per cent of additional fee income over £6,000).
  • 2018/19: £10.20m (30.4 per cent of additional fee income over £6,000).

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:

  • 2017/18: 88 per cent.
  • 2018/19: 82 per cent.

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.



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