Students from poorer families attending post-1992 universities will receive less financial support under the coalition's higher education reforms but those studying at pre-1992s will benefit from more generous packages, a report has found.
In a study published on 8 November, the Institute for Fiscal Studies examines the bursary programmes of 90 higher education institutions to track changes in the student support available under the tuition-fee regime that came into force this autumn.
The independent economic research institute found major differences in the bursaries offered to students at different types of university.
The report, Fees and student support under the new higher education funding regime: a detailed analysis, says that a low-income student - with family earnings of less than £25,000 per annum - attending a Russell Group university can expect to receive over £2,900 a year on average in financial support.
But that figure falls to around £900 at University Alliance institutions and just £700 at Million+ universities.
This is because new universities have higher numbers of students from poorer backgrounds, meaning that their bursary cash - provided under the National Scholarship Programme and the institutions' own schemes - is spread more thinly, whereas older universities have more money to redistribute because they charge higher fees and have fewer poor students to support.
Widening inequality in bursaries
Inequalities in bursary support have widened under the new system, the IFS adds.
In 2011-12, the average bursary for a low-income student at a Million+ university was £525 a year and this fell to £411 in 2012-13. In contrast, the same student at a Russell Group university would have received £1,898 in 2011-12 and £2,115 in 2012-13.
At a 1994 Group university, the sum for a low-income student rose from £1,182 to £1,631.
Students can also qualify for fee waivers for the first time this year but these are "less valuable to students since they are only a potential future benefit", given that the unpaid balance on student loan repayments is written off after 30 years, the report concludes.
Fees and student support also examines how bursaries are increasingly targeted at students who gain at least AAB in their A levels or the equivalent.
Bursaries for AAB students rose within every mission group, particularly the 1994 Group.
However, those for non-AAB students increased only in the Russell Group and the 1994 Group, and fell substantially in all the other bodies, the report says.
Uncertainty and a "lack of transparency" regarding eligibility criteria mean that the NSP "makes little or no difference to students' application decisions", the IFS adds. The coalition should rethink the scheme as it is a "potential 'deadweight'" that does not encourage poorer students to apply to university, it argues.
Meanwhile, another IFS report states that the gap in higher education participation between social classes closed considerably between 2004 and 2010 under the previous government.
The higher numbers of students from socially disadvantaged areas attending university were a result of improved examination performance and the "progressive" loan repayment scheme introduced by Labour in 2006, which mitigated the impact of increased tuition fees that year, the IFS says.