What is it? Financial support includes grants, bursaries, scholarships and fee-waivers. When offered to prospective students, financial support is designed to help overcome the perceived or actual cost of applying and/or going to higher education (HE).

Evidence? There is a small but high-quality body of evidence that finds financial support can have a positive, albeit small, impact on HE participation. Some evidence also suggests it can encourage students to apply to courses with higher entry requirements or that are further from home. However, much of the existing research comes from the USA. More evidence is needed on the impact of financial support in a UK context, and particularly on support offered by individual HE providers as opposed to maintenance grants.

Should HE providers offer financial support to widen participation? Overall, the international evidence base suggests that providers should include financial support as part of their approach to boosting participation among students from low-income backgrounds. Most of the evidence relates to grants/bursaries/scholarships rather than fee-waivers. Financial support is likely to be most effective where:

  • It is combined with a proactive campaign to help prospective students understand and access what is available to them.
  • It is part of a broader programme of engagement with students – for more information, see multi-intervention outreach.
  • It is need-based (i.e. based on financial background) rather than merit-based (i.e. based on prior attainment).