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Taking action in higher education

Students at elite universities enjoy biggest bursaries

29 September 2011 | last updated: 11 December 2015

The country's most elite universities provide bigger grants for students from poorer backgrounds but fail to attract them in any great numbers, according to figures released today by the Office For Fair Access (OFFA).

Using the new figures, UCU has ranked the average level of bursaries institutions offered to those students eligible for financial support in the 2009/10 academic year. The average bursary for these students was £885.

The union found that five institutions, including the University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge and Imperial College, offered poorer students bursaries of more than £2,000 in 2009/10. However, only one in four students at Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial was eligible for bursaries compared to over 90% at the University of Northumbria, for example.

Over four-fifths of students at the University of Bradford (82.3%), at the University of Bedfordshire (88.2%) and the University of Northumbria (92.5%) were eligible for a bursary, but they received an average bursary of just £679, £754 and £628 respectively. Despite the lower bursary levels, the universities spent a similar proportion (roughly a third) of their fee revenue on bursaries. See table below.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'It is over-simplistic to suggest that it is the size of bursaries alone that determine where students study. However, we need to provide better support for students from poorer backgrounds wherever they study.

'The universities with the best records of recruiting students from the poorest backgrounds have higher drop-out rates and cannot offer bursaries to match the elite institutions. Under the new fees system, universities will struggle to offer enhanced packages of student support as extra fee revenue will be used to plug funding gaps following government cuts.'

Details of bursary size, number of students on bursaries and money spent on bursaries by the universities mentioned in the release. The full table is available from the press office.

HEIs: 2009-10 OFFA reportBursaries and scholarships (B&S) for students from lower and other under-represented groups* £Avge B&S for OFFA countable students £Total B&S holders*Total B&S holders as a proportion of full fee-paying students* %Spending on B&S for students from lower and other under-represented groups and outreach as % total of top-up fee income
University of Oxford6,160,7962,3022,67628.234.1
Imperial College London3,490,2532,2841,52826.532.3
University of Cambridge5,769,9452,1762,65225.729.2
University of Bradford3,176,8866794,68282.329.5
University of Bedfordshire4,137,1527545,48488.234.3
University of Northumbria at Newcastle7,729,80062812,31492.531.5

* 'OFFA countable'