Leading Article: Bursary message

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We have an incredibly complicated system of financial help for students since the introduction of top-up fees, as the OFFA survey demonstrates. Students should be using information about bursaries to make up their minds which university to attend, but they are not, according to the evidence. Higher education institutions will clearly have to make a much more determined effort to get their messages across. They should also look at the impact their arrangements are having on student choice.

Universities are spending 6 to 46 per cent of their extra fee income on bursaries and scholarships, which is a lot of money, so they need to know what effect it is having.

Institutions which are offering scholarships on merit – in other words, stellar A-Levels – should think again about this. The evidence suggests that such help goes to educated and reasonably well-off families not to those in financial need. It is much more useful to target money at the disadvantaged. That way universities can have an effect on social mobility and open doors to groups who have been excluded until now.