A study published today revealed that smart teenagers from the disadvantaged homes deny the opportunity to study at the top universities even when they are offered bursaries that amount to thousands of pounds. After Office for Fair Access (Offa) analyzed the applications of young people starting from 2003 up to 2008 it was found that the efforts of top universities – Oxford and Cambridge – to attract poor teenagers to study there were mostly fruitless.
Researchers from government's university access watchdog categorized the teenagers by the following criteria: they counted the number of graduates there were of their parents' age in their neighborhood. In the 40% of neighborhoods with the lowest proportion of graduate parents, the number of young people who attended top universities was constant in the period between 2003 and 2008. Even when in 2006 the most prestigious universities offered poor teenagers with high grades bursaries of £3,500 without paying it back, the proportion did not increase. The investigation have found that even when disadvantaged teenagers are offered places in the best universities with the promise of a generous bursary, the number of those who are reluctant to accept this proposal is bigger than those who would like to enter universities.
Offa calls on the best universities to forgo tuition fees for the poorest teenagers at least for the first year of study. However, no university took this advice to attract students. The researches consider that universities should use some of the money that was put off for bursaries to set more visits to schools in deprived areas.
After an independent review led by Lord Browne is published the next month, tuition fees are expected to rise to £5,000, or even £7,000. Sir Martin Harris, Offa's director, wrote in his essay that the abolition of fee is a more effective way to influence applicants' choices than bursaries.
The National Union of Students and the lecturers' trade union, the University and College Union, claim that bursaries are too confusing.