Student Perceptions and Institutional Targets: the matches and mismatches of financial bursary support
Authors: Frost, S., Mbah, M. and Eccles, S.
Journal: Widening Participation and Lifelong Learning
Publisher: Open University, Centre for Widening Participation
Bursary support in Higher Education (HE) helps to enable students from widening participation (WP) backgrounds to more fully engage with their university experiences on an equal basis to their peers. But whilst such support is intended to enhance access to HE, aid retention and increase academic success (which can be monitored using existing institutional data), less is understood about student perceptions of this support. To address this gap, studies are required that investigate both the student experience of receiving financial assistance and, crucially, the mode by which that assistance is delivered: the latter impinging directly on student experience. The survey in this paper used a single UK university in which a range of financial assistance is provided, including bursary funds and hardship funds, and where a significant proportion of students are from WP backgrounds. A mixed methods approach was adopted comprising an online questionnaire, in-depth semi-structured interviews and focus groups. The findings suggest that receiving financial assistance has a positive impact. However, three areas emerged where the administration and impact of financial support could be improved: pre-financial support to better ascertain the nature and level of bursary and any non-financial complementary support required by individual students; embedded financial mentoring to help students with budgeting and addressing any non-financial issues such as stress, academic performance and low confidence; and post-financial guidance to support students towards longer-term financial independence and stability. Improvements in student support could be achieved through strategic amendments to current provision that addresses the three areas noted but, as this study suggests, perhaps more-so by considering the modality of the bursary provision.