Impact of the student finance system on participation, experience and outcomes of disadvantaged young people

Literature review

Pollard E, Huxley C, Martin A, Takala H, Byford M  |   | Department for Education | May 2019

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This report describes the findings from the Rapid Evidence Assessment (REA) literature review undertaken for the Department for Education (DfE). The report also sets out the aims of the literature review, the search and sift processes adopted, maps the literature identified, and provides an assessment of the adequacy and coverage of the research evidence.

Background and context

The learning landscape beyond compulsory education has changed considerably, with:

  • a broadening of learning pathways after age 18, and work to raise the profile and equivalency of technical/vocational education pathways;
  • policies to improve access to/and widen participation in Higher Education (HE) across all providers with particular focus on young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and/or in disadvantaged neighbourhoods;
  • policies to broaden options within HE and increase flexible learning modes; and
  • work to focus on the entire student lifecycle to improve the student experience and engagement, and support student success.

At the same time, the costs associated with learning and related financial support have seen the greatest changes in more than 30 years. Most recently, the HE sector experienced a threefold increase in maximum tuition fees for undergraduate degree courses, a shift from means-tested maintenance grants to higher levels of maintenance loans for students from low-income households, a reduction in central support for institutional bursaries and removal of many subject specific bursaries.

The Further Education (FE) sector has seen changes to learning funding, with government grants refocused on lower levels of study while loans have been introduced at advanced and higher levels of study for older learners 24+ (later extended to those aged 19-23); and also new targeted support for disadvantaged students. These changes have created some tensions, for although there are more choices than ever before it potentially raises the risks and thereby costs of making the wrong choice, which can be considerable and largely borne by the student.