Degree results speak volumes

A scheme that encourages students to buy more books has multifarious benefits, writes Jack Grove

September 20, 2012

Students who buy more books achieve better degree results, a study has found. Researchers at the University of East London tracked the expenditure of almost 5,500 undergraduates at its campus bookshops over the three years of their studies.

Students who gained a first-class degree spent an average of £239 on books - almost two-thirds more than the £146 spent by those who later received a third-class degree.

Those who received an upper second spent £205 on books, while those getting a 2:2 spent just £179.

A smaller study at Anglia Ruskin University, which analysed spending by 479 students, demonstrated a similar correlation between book spend and academic achievement.

The studies are detailed in a report titled Students First (Financial Interventions to Assist Retention and Student Transitions) and are based on transactions made on student "smart cards", which can be loaded with credit by the university.

Such schemes, operated by more than 20 institutions, mean students can spend bursary cash only on university premises and on essentials such as books, lab equipment, child care, travel and accommodation.

The authors of the UEL study, Karina Berzins and Tony Hudson, from the university's Continuum Centre for Widening Participation Policy Studies, suggest that such "targeted bursaries" could be more effective in improving attainment among poorer students than a simple cash grant.

They claim that such bursaries "introduce an equality in student spending power that would not otherwise exist" and "clearly motivate students to progress from year to year".

Three-quarters of 535 students surveyed for the report said the targeted bursaries had encouraged them to do better in their studies. "You [otherwise] might be tempted to buy a lot of junk when you should save it for your books," says one student quoted in the report.

The introduction of targeted bursaries at UEL in 2006 has also coincided with a fall in dropout rates, the report adds, although it was unable to establish a causal link to the scheme.

Andrew West, director of student services at University of Sheffield and chair of advice group Amosshe, which supported the study, welcomed the "landmark piece of work", which could lead to other innovative types of bursaries.

Sir Deian Hopkin, former vice-chancellor of London South Bank University, who chairs the Students First project board, said the report "provides important insight into one effective way that targeted bursaries can be used to support students, and how universities can make the best use of communications technology".

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