OFFA publishes new tools to evaluate the impact of financial support

6th December 2016

The Office for Fair Access (OFFA) has today (Monday 5 December) published a report and a set of online tools to help universities better evaluate the financial support they provide through access agreements.

OFFA commissioned a team at Sheffield Hallam University in 2015 to develop a statistical model which will help universities investigate whether bursaries and other forms of financial support are an effective tool to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds enter higher education, succeed in their studies, and be prepared for life after graduation. Commenting, Professor Les Ebdon, Director of Fair Access to Higher Education, said: -I have challenged universities to improve the ways in which they evaluate their work in order to make further, faster progress in improving access. I recognise that this is not always a simple task. "So I am pleased to support the sector in meeting this challenge by providing these evaluation tools, which will help institutions understand more about the effectiveness of financial support within their own context. -There are more young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in higher education than ever before so we know that fair access is a national success story. We do, however, need to understand more about what works best to improve access and then ensure that students from disadvantaged backgrounds are supported to be successful in their studies. -Previous national level OFFA research has not been able to find evidence that bursaries influence choice of institution or students' likelihood of continuing in their studies. However, OFFA has retained an open mind. I know that many institutions believe that financial support can be effective in particular circumstances. This statistical model will help them to analyse and understand better the impact of the support they offer. -I will be strongly encouraging universities to make use of the model in their evaluative work. Our monitoring of access agreements for 2014-15 found that £50 million of financial support spend was not evaluated. Clearly, it would not be acceptable for this to continue. I expect to see institutions take advantage of this new tool so they can step up their game on evaluation, taking an ever more evidence-led approach to ensure they focus their investment where it has the greatest impact in opening doors to students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Dr Colin McCaig from Sheffield Hallam's Sheffield Institute of Education, principal investigator on the project, said: -For the first time, because of our work on this, institutions will be able to make evidence-based judgements about the effectiveness of their financial support packages using a standardised evaluation format. -Our model allows institutions to track bursary holders throughout the student lifecycle from enrolment to employment, and, thanks to the contribution of colleagues based at University of Oxford, University of Bedfordshire, University of the West of England and King's College London, we have a set of tools that will be relevant across the whole sector. -The survey and interview tools - which can be adapted by institutions in response to the specifics of their own support packages - can be used to help redesign or refocus financial support as and when necessary.

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