Higher education providers spend substantial sums of money each year on bursaries, scholarships, discounts, and other types of financial support for students.
Where this is invested as part of their access and participation plan, they have a duty to ensure that it is effective in improving outcomes for students from underrepresented groups.
In their access and participation work, we expect providers to be evidence-led in their approach.
Evaluation is crucial for an evidence-led, strategic approach to access and participation, and an essential element of our expectations for continuous improvement for all providers.
Where providers are committing resource to financial support under their access and participation plans, we require them to provide strong evidence of how this financial support will help to improve outcomes for those from underrepresented groups.
Providers should demonstrate that their financial support evaluation methods are appropriately robust and focused on impact in terms of changes in behaviour (such as improved continuation, degree attainment, progression to graduate employment) rather than, for example, solely gathering opinions from students.
We strongly encourage providers to use this evaluation toolkit, although they may use alternative methods if they can demonstrate that they are equally robust.
For more details see our latest access and participation plan guidance.
Guidance for higher education providers
Before you start
Decide which tools to use
The tools are:
Survey tool - a set of survey questions
Statistical tool - a framework for statistical analysis
Interview tool - a semi-structured interview framework
Most providers will need to use all of these to ensure their financial support is informed by robust evidence. Implementation guidance and downloadable resources are available for each tool.
The survey and interview tools can be used by any institution, with any number of financial support recipients.
The statistical tool is suitable for institutions with more than around 300 financial support recipients per year.
For the statistical tool, institutions with between around 300-800 financial support recipients per year will need to combine data from multiple years to increase their sample size and achieve meaningful evaluation. Institutions with more than 800 financial support recipients should have data readily available annually to support their statistical analysis.
Developing or changing the tools
We strongly encourage you to use the evaluation toolkit resources as they are, although you may use other methods or work with experts to further develop the tools if you can provide evidence that these methods are robust.
These tools were developed by experts through a process of multiple pilots and cognitive testing to develop their robustness.
Understand what skills, expertise and resources are needed
It is likely you will need to draw upon various staff and expertise within your institution to complete an effective evaluation.
The guidance for using each specific tool includes a summary of skills and resources you are likely to need.
Understand the strategic role of your financial support
You should use evidence to inform your strategic decisions of how your investment in financial support will improve access, student success and/or progression of under-represented and disadvantaged groups at your institution.
The purpose of evaluating is to find out whether and how your financial support for students is having the impact you intend.
Before you begin the evaluation, you will need to clearly understand the nature of your financial support packages and their aims (i.e. what impact you intend these to achieve).
Most financial support packages aim to ‘level the playing field’ for disadvantaged young people to access and experience higher education. You may have a variety of aims and objectives for your financial support related to different groups of students’ needs, and different support packages.
Understanding the intended impact will give you the objectives you can evaluate against, and enable you to effectively analyse and interpret findings.
Interpreting your findings
Your findings should be interpreted in the unique context of your own institution and informed by available evidence from evaluation and research.
We recommend that you involve your key stakeholders in this process (e.g. practitioners, financial advisers, experienced researchers, student representatives, and strategic decision makers).
Some questions that could assist facilitating the interpretation process are:
What have you learned about how your financial support is working and the impact it has on student outcomes?
Is it having the intended impact?
What should you keep doing?
What should you do more of?
What should you do less of?
How can you share and understand the findings with others at your institution who have a stake in effective financial support?
How do these findings confirm, develop or challenge your understanding from previous evaluations or research?
What possible changes could you make that are likely to improve impact?
How would different groups be affected if you redirected financial support?
Is your financial support an effective use of money to achieve the desired impact?
What new questions are raised to drive future evaluation or research?
Next steps: planning future evaluations
We recommend these evaluation tools are used annually, to feed into your regulatory reporting and strategic planning cycle for widening participation.
Timely evaluation is particularly important to guide your strategic planning where the nature of your financial support changes, or if the environment changes significantly.