Support: money well spent

July 21, 2016

The director of fair access to higher education, Les Ebdon, is right to highlight the fact that not enough evaluation is carried out into the effectiveness of the money that institutions spend on financial support (“Spending £50m on access without evaluation ‘not acceptable’”, News, 14 July). That is why a group of five universities, led by Sheffield Hallam University and including the University of the West of England, the University of Oxford, King’s College London and the University of Bedfordshire, have been developing evaluative tools that can be used across the sector and are currently being piloted at another four institutions.

The principal method is a tracking mechanism using student data held by institutions. The evidence we have already gathered suggests that where there are differential outcomes in relation to retention, completion, achievement of a “good” degree (2:1 or a first) and graduate employment outcomes, those that receive financial support do at least as well as those from household income backgrounds that are just above the cut-off for eligibility and those from “average” family income backgrounds. In other words, receipt of financial support closes the gap between poorer students and their better-off peers.

The Office for Fair Access has funded this research with the intention that all institutions will be required to use these tools to evaluate the effectiveness of their support packages in access agreement reporting. Where this support isn’t shown to be working, support packages can be refocused, or the income can be redirected to outreach work. One problem, correctly identified in the recent Offa report (14 July), is that many institutions are not evaluating either their financial support or outreach work; other evidence suggests that where institutions are evaluating access spend, this isn’t being done in a coherent or comparable manner sufficient to produce an evidence base. The adoption of common, sectorrelevant tools and evaluation methodologies can only help us all to understand the best and most appropriate ways to not only attract talented individuals into higher education but also to make sure they are supported throughout their studies.

Colin McCaig
Sheffield Hallam University


Send to

Letters should be sent to: THE.Letters@tesglobal.com
Letters for publication in Times Higher Education should arrive by 9am Monday.
View terms and conditions.

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

men in office with feet on desk. Vintage

Three-quarters of respondents are dissatisfied with the people running their institutions

A group of flamingos and a Marabou stork

A right-wing philosopher in Texas tells John Gill how a minority of students can shut down debates and intimidate lecturers – and why he backs Trump

A face made of numbers looks over a university campus

From personalising tuition to performance management, the use of data is increasingly driving how institutions operate

students use laptops

Researchers say students who use computers score half a grade lower than those who write notes

Canal houses, Amsterdam, Netherlands

All three of England’s for-profit universities owned in Netherlands