The OfS (Office for Students) has imposed a specific ongoing condition of registration on the University of Cambridge. The condition is that the university conduct a robust evaluation of the impact of financial support with regards to its “Access and Participation Plan”.
In its simplest form, this means the university is bound to research into the effects of bursaries on students, in line with their goals and objectives outlined in their Access and Participation Plan. As such, the university are currently researching the benefits of the bursary. Whether this be the effects that the bursaries have on the student experience, or how they may act as an incentive for people to apply to Cambridge specifically as well as the efficacy of the current system under which they operate.
The bursary system is an integral part of the access and participation aims of the university, and rightly so. Bursaries have a two-fold impact; initially they alleviate any financial concerns about applying to what is painted as an elite institution for the few, thus improving access. Once students arrive, they allow for full participation in life at Cambridge without having to worry about financial burdens, allowing for increased social cohesion. A repeated mantra is that access does not cease upon admissions, and bursaries are in place to support students whilst here as well as encourage them to apply. The bursary system is also essential in attempting to mitigate the vast college inequalities that currently exist, though much more needs to be done on this front. The research being conducted by the university will be used to ascertain whether any structural changes in the allocations of bursaries is necessary, and how best to implement them if so.
The Big Cambridge Survey (2016) notes the following:
– 96% of students receiving the Cambridge Bursary agreed that financial aid had had a positive impact on their student experience. (77% said it had a very positive impact)
– Only 31% of students receiving the bursary said that finances had been a negative issue for them at university; significantly lower than the average of students not eligible for the bursary.
– 72% of students receiving the bursary agree that the university is successful in ensuring that financial issues and limitations do not get in the way of students’ academic success, with only 9% disagreeing. The equivalent for non-bursary students is 41% and 22% respectively.
These statistics show that the scheme has a hugely positive impact on students in receipt of bursaries and as such, this can be taken as evidence that they are effective in combatting issues of participation and retention.
The OfS suggests that the funds used to provide bursaries should instead be funnelled into funding more outreach programmes and non-financial provisions. It is important to note that this is not an either/or situation and both sides of the coin are necessary.
As part of the investigation led by the University of Cambridge, a thorough evaluation of current access initiatives is underway, to identify their strengths and weaknesses in order to shape an optimal model for events which will have tangible effects on the diversity of the student population in all its forms. We welcome this as it will allow for the development of initiatives that are much more effective.
I am currently writing a proposal, underpinned by research, which outlines a multi-contact model between the university, its current students and prospective applicants in a novel access initiative. This sustained model would involve multiple interactions in the form of online mentoring, webinars and residential events. There have been a very limited number of these events in the past, yet where they have run, the outcomes are extremely positive. Now is the time, to push our thoughts and ideas forward to the university, on what we deem able to tangibly improve the access programmes we have in place.
If you have any thoughts or ideas on current access schemes, or new ideas you wish to implement, please do get in touch. The university values student opinion, and now is the optimal time to drive the changes we wish to see.
CUSU Access Officer