Wait and see about waivers

November 24, 2011

Further to your online report on the Association of Law Teachers' annual Lord Upjohn lecture ("For students, fee waivers 'make no sense whatsoever'", timeshighereducation.co.uk, 14 November), it is worth pointing out that to date there is no hard evidence to support favouring bursaries over fee waivers or vice versa. In fact, statistical analysis commissioned by the Office for Fair Access shows that to date bursaries have had no impact on students' universities choices whatsoever. This is why, in our guidance to universities on drawing up access agreements for 2012-13, we encouraged them to increase their expenditure on well-targeted outreach such as summer schools, where evidence shows an increase in applications and entrants from participants.

Of course, financial support may play a much more important role in access in the new landscape of significantly higher tuition fees, but it is impossible to "model" student behaviour at this stage. We will do more research and analysis as soon as data become available and if evidence emerges that one method of financial support is more effective than another in supporting access and retention (the latter is new to Offa's remit), then we will advise the government and the sector accordingly.

In the meantime, Offa remains neutral on the exact shape that financial support takes and has deemed it reasonable to allow universities a limited opportunity to revise their 2012-13 access agreements in order to respond to the government's major policy change to student number controls. Whatever the outcome of our discussions with universities on revised agreements, financial support worth hundreds of millions of pounds will still be available to students from under-represented groups on top of state loans and grants for living costs.

Sir Martin Harris, Director of Fair Access to Higher Education

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