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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 February 2007, 00:25 GMT
Universities offer more bursaries
Students on campus
Tuition fees of up to 3,000 were introduced in England last year
Universities are offering a growing number of bursaries in the wake of higher fees but this is not affecting application rates, a study says.

Some schemes reward academic success or sporting prowess, while others award bursaries on grounds of disability or race, the Universities UK study finds.

But the report authors did not find a link between the generosity of the bursaries and number of applications.

The findings come as Ucas prepares to publish university admissions figures.

The figures from Ucas, the university admissions service, are expected to show a rise in applications to UK universities of over 5%.

This is despite concerns that increased tuition fees - up to 3,000 a year - for students in England from September 2006 would put people off applying for university.

The figures may re-open the debate as to whether the current 3,000 cap on fees should be increased when the system is reviewed in 2009.


In its assessment of the range of bursaries now being offered to students, Universities UK said it looked for a relationship between generous offers and take-up of places.

"The simple answer is that there is no such relationship," the report said.

The government should be ensuring higher education is properly funded so all students have the possibility to achieve their full potential
Sally Hunt,
University and College Union

"For example some of the institutions that are offering bursary support to all or nearly all their full-time undergraduate students have experienced amongst the largest percentage fall in applicants between 2005 and 2006, while others have seen an increase in applicants.

"The impact of charging a fee below 3,000 is also similarly diverse, with some of the institutions seeing increased numbers of applicants while other have experienced falls."

The report also found bursaries were being offered to encourage students to take up less popular subjects such as engineering, languages and physical sciences.

Applications 'fluctuate'

The Universities UK report, written by Nigel Brown Associates, said demand for university places had fluctuated between 2004 and 2006.

There was a sharp rise in applications in 2005 as students attempted to get in ahead of top-up fees, and a fall last year - the first year of the new regime.

Under the new system undergraduates in England are charged up to 3,000 per year, but do not have to pay until after graduation.

But universities in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland typically experienced a 10% rise in the level of applicants over both 2005 and 2006.

The report also found that enrolments for part-time undergraduate courses fell more than 5% between 2003-4 and 2004-5.

This may worry government officials who have been trying to encourage work place learning through various training schemes.

But the report added: "This data probably reflects the increased proportion of the 18 to 21 year old age group entering higher education over the past 15 years."

It also said the proportion of students applying from ethnic minority and lower socio-economic groups between 2002 and 2005 was stable.


Universities UK President Professor Drummond Bone said the report provided useful information for considering the effects of the changes introduced in the autumn of 2006.

"Despite some pessimistic predictions following this change, our report confirms the upward trend in numbers of applicants and acceptances between 2004 and 2006.

"It also illustrates that demand for higher education places remains solid.

"This is encouraging as the government undertakes its 2007 spending review."

But the University and College Union said the "complicated system" of bursaries, grants and fees was confusing many students and parents.

"Rather than fiddling still further with this complicated system, the government should be ensuring higher education is properly funded so all students have the possibility to achieve their full potential, and that they are taught by properly-paid staff in well-resourced institutions," said joint general secretary Sally Hunt.

The National Union of Students said it "stood firm" in the belief that the HE sector should be publicly funded.

"Furthermore the current system of bursaries and grants is clearly confusing and needs a complete overhaul to boost take up and end inconsistencies," said NUS president Gemma Tumelty.

More students apply to university
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23 May 06 |  Education
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29 Nov 06 |  Education

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