Every year, universities spend hundreds of millions of pounds on bursaries and other financial incentives to help disadvantaged students with the costs of higher education.
But research suggests that the people they are designed to help have almost no idea what the word “bursary” means.
Steven Jones, researcher at the Manchester Institute of Education at the University of Manchester, interviewed 198 Year 10 and 11 pupils – all academically on track to be able to enter university – at three deprived schools, just as higher tuition fees were introduced in September 2012. Only one of them knew what “bursary” meant.
“When we talk about bursaries, we’re speaking a language that is completely unknown to these students,” said Dr Jones, who was speaking at the annual conference of the Society for Research into Higher Education, held in Newport, South Wales on 11 December.
More than £400 million was spent on bursaries, scholarships and fee waivers by institutions in 2012, the Office for Fair Access estimated in its annual report this year.
In Dr Jones’ survey, which he stressed had not yet been peer-reviewed, just over half the pupils correctly said that student fees would be £9,000 under the new system. About 20 per cent said they would continue to be £3,000, while the rest gave other answers, with one believing that fees would be about £100,000.
Many were unclear about whether the sums were annual or for the entire course, Dr Jones added.
Some, particularly males, saw going to university as detrimental to their identity.
Dr Jones recalled one student who said: “What would your mates say…whenever you come back [from university], it would be like, ‘reckon you’re better than us, do you?’ ”
Another participant said that one of their relatives had been heavily criticised by their family for going to university.
“They were very suspicious…because of how their peer group would respond and there were fears they would become a less authentic version of themselves,” he said.