Financial support

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).

Explore the evidence on financial support (pre-entry).

Information, advice and guidance

What is it? Information, advice and guidance (IAG) is an umbrella term for support that helps students make informed choices about education options. IAG is primarily factual in nature, as opposed to approaches that aim to influence aspirations or foster a sense of belonging in higher education (HE).

Evidence? There are a handful of robust research studies on the impact of light-touch forms of IAG (for example, text messages, in-school presentations). These studies show that IAG can have a small positive effect on attitudes/aspirations and on HE participation. However, the provision of financial information leads to more mixed results.

Should HE providers use IAG to widen participation? IAG is generally a low-cost intervention which has a positive but small impact on attitudes/aspirations and HE participation. It is likely that this kind of approach only impacts participation for students who were already at the margin of applying to HE. There is evidence that IAG should be accompanied by personalised support to be truly effective, and that financial information alone may be ineffective.  Therefore, IAG is a low-cost approach that should be used to supplement other more intensive activity.

Explore the evidence on information, advice and guidance

Mentoring, counselling, coaching and role models

What is it? Mentoring, counselling and role model interventions are designed to encourage students to perceive higher education (HE) as a desirable destination and a place where they would belong. These interventions often offer support to apply to higher education.

Evidence? There is some evidence from the UK to suggest these interventions can influence students’ attitudes/aspirations relating to HE. However, the research is not ‘causal’ (in other words, it can’t tell us definitively that the intervention is effective) and it does not show whether these approaches have an impact on actual HE participation. There is some stronger evidence of impact from the USA, which would benefit from replication in a UK context.

Should HE providers use mentoring/counselling/role model interventions to support to widen participation? Providers can use these kinds of approaches to influence students’ attitudes/aspirations.  There is not currently a strong evidence base for an associated effect on HE participation. Given these are intensive interventions (both in terms of staff and student time) there is strong case for seeking more information on the efficacy versus other less intensive approaches. Where Higher Education Providers (HEPs) run mentoring or counselling programmes, they should seek to evaluate them to understand if they are having the desired impact see the TASO evaluation guidance for more information on how to do this.

Explore the evidence on mentoring, counselling, coaching and role models (pre-entry) 

Multi-intervention outreach

What is it? Multi-intervention outreach combines two or more activities into an ongoing programme of support for students at different stages of their education.

Evidence? Most of the evidence for multi-intervention outreach focuses on whether students perceive that an activity has been beneficial and how it has changed their aspirations/attitudes towards higher education (HE). There is no conclusive evidence of the impact these programmes have on HE participation, particularly in the UK.

Should HE providers use multi-intervention outreach to widen participation? Evidence suggest that these programmes are likely to have a bigger impact than other approaches in isolation. However, since they tend to be large-scale, high-cost interventions, providers should seek to embed evaluation to understand whether they impact actual HE participation – see the TASO evaluation guidance here for more advice on how to do this. Providers should also seek to build understanding of which elements are most effective – TASO is running a research project to help providers explore the features of successful multi-intervention outreach.

Explore the evidence on multi-intervention outreach 

Summer schools

What is it? Summer schools are a form of on-campus outreach comprising a range of activities designed to immerse participants in an experience of higher education (HE), including workshops, taster sessions and social activities.

Evidence? There is little causal research on the efficacy of summer schools to widen participation. The existing studies show that students who attend a summer school express higher confidence and aspiration at the end than at the beginning, but evidence on progression to HE is limited.

Should HE providers use summer schools to widen participation? Currently there is insufficient evidence to say that summer schools are an effective tool to widen participation. There is an absence of evidence on progression. It is plausible that summer schools attract participants who are most likely to increase their confidence and aspirations, and go on to HE, regardless of the summer school. Given the time- and resource-intensive nature of summer schools, there is strong case for seeking more information on the efficacy versus other less intensive approaches. TASO is running a research project to produce more evidence on the efficacy of this approach.

Explore the evidence on summer schools