The Unite Foundation need not fear – the debate over the role of financial support in improving access and retention is still very much open as far as the Office for Fair Access is concerned (“Student support: don’t shut down the debate”, Letters, 30 July). So much so, in fact, that we are currently supporting a major research project to improve understanding of the impact of financial support. This project, which involves seven universities and the National Union of Students, will also provide practical evaluation tools to help institutions ensure that the bursaries they give go where they really make a difference.
We have certainly not ruled out that financial support may be beneficial, particularly in the changing context of overall student finance, and we are very much aware that the existing research concerns mostly the pre-2012 system. However, as an evidence-led organisation, we do need to be mindful of the fact that analysis to date, including the literature review we commissioned from Nursaw Associates earlier this year, has not found that bursaries are the powerful tool for access that many expected, either in terms of enabling students from disadvantaged backgrounds to enter higher education, or in helping them to stay on and be successful in their studies.
We would welcome any robust contribution that the Unite Foundation or any others wish to make to our efforts to increase understanding of the role of financial support in improving access, success and progression in the current higher education landscape.
Director, Fair Access to Higher Education