22 SES 08 A, Inclusion and Diversity in Higher Education Settings
Parallel Paper Session
The paper critically analyses the impact of reforms to the student financial support system in English higher education through a comparative analysis of institutional access support policies (contained in Access Agreements). The paper identifies a shifting focus from generic widening access through aspiration raising activities to the targeting of specific cohorts, to the detriment of many under-represented groups in higher education - those from poorer backgrounds, some BME groups, the disabled and those from the social care system. The findings are located in a context of stagnation in overall student numbers and state promotion of market mechanisms in higher education (BIS 2011a), and thus are likely to be of relevance to delegates from any state where public spending restrictions are felt in the HE sector.
Since 2006 English Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) have been obliged to make an Access Agreement with the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) if they wish to charge the maximum tuition fee. Access Agreements declare how institutions will use a proportion of the additional fee income to support access to HE for applicants from under-represented groups. Since 2011 (BIS 2011a) new funding arrangements have been introduced including a significant rise in maximum tuition fees (to £9,000) and a removal of the obligation on institutions to provide means tested financial compensation (bursaries) to all students that qualify. Instead, HEIs have to sign-up to the National Scholarship Programme (NSP) which offers significant financial support (in the form of fee waivers or cash bursaries) but to far fewer recipients (BIS 2011b). This shifts the emphasis of support from supporting all who enrol to targeting of support at only the most deserving of cases, and leaves considerable room for institutions to target specific cohorts or to incentivise applicants to specific programmes of study.
The paper builds on previous analyses of Access Agreements by the author and others (Callender and Jackson 2008; McCaig 2008; McCaig and Adnett 2008; 2009) that show how the access and outreach priorities of different types of English HEI vary. Selective institutions are more likely to target support on the basis of merit and offered larger financial support to a small number of students. In contrast, recruiting institutions have been more likely to engage with a wider range of social groups, and offer financial support to a larger number of beneficiaries. Due to the uneven distribution of students from under-represented backgrounds within the English HE sector, many institutions fear that the NSP will distort their overall access and outreach spending with potentially negative effects on applicants from under-represented backgrounds who overwhelmingly attend recruiting institutions. Comparative thematic content analysis of new and original agreements will show the extent to which institutions are adapting to the new landscape in which widening access to all is seen as less important than targeting support only at the most able.
An Independent Review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance (2010) Securing a Sustainable Future for Higher Education (The Browne Report). BIS (2011b) Press Release The National Scholarship Programme – Year One, 10th February 2011 BIS (2011a). Students at the Heart of the System, TSO, July 2011 Callender, C and Jackson, J. (2008) Does Fear of Debt Constrain Choice of University and Subject of Study? Studies in Higher Education, 33(4): 405-29 McCaig, C (2008) Variable tuition fees and widening participation: the marketing of institutions through access agreements, Paper presented to the EAIR Forum, Copenhagen, August 2008. McCaig, C., Adnett, N. (2008) Variable Tuition Fees and the impact of access agreements on Widening Participation and Fair Access, Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, Edinburgh, September 2008 McCaig, C and Adnett, N (2009) English Universities, Additional Fee Income and Access Agreements: their impact on Widening Participation and Fair Access, British Journal of Education Studies, Vol. 57, No.1 March 2009 pp.18-36.
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