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Imperial Bursary Project: The financial, academic, and social experience of students in receipt of the Imperial Bursary

Project team

Contact: Dr Julianne Viola (Project lead) & Dr Luke McCrone,  CHERS Research Associates

Other team members: Louise Hanger (Strategic Planning Division), Adam Keogh (Strategic Planning Division)

Past team members: Dr Eliel Cohen (CHERS), Andrew Stevenson (Strategic Planning Division)

The Imperial Bursary Project utilizes in-depth interviews with recipients of Imperial’s means-tested bursary to understand the financial, academic, and social experiences of financially disadvantaged students at Imperial College London. This project seeks to understand the relationship between the financial, social and academic experience of students in receipt of the Imperial Bursary.

An important part of UK higher education policy in recent years has been the widening participation (WP) agenda: policies and initiatives to support access to and success in higher education for students from backgrounds traditionally underrepresented in UK higher education. It is a regulatory requirement that UK universities develop their own WP initiatives and collect data which will enable evaluation of this work. One of Imperial College’s approaches to this is the Imperial Bursary scheme, which provides non-repayable bursaries to undergraduate students from households with an income below a certain threshold.

In fulfilment of regulatory evaluation requirements, the Strategic Planning Division of Imperial College collects data every year about the experience of Imperial Bursary recipients via interviews. This project is in collaboration with the Strategic Planning Division and expands the purpose of these regulatory interviews to not only evaluate the effects and effectiveness of the Imperial Bursary scheme, but also to conduct research into the broader experiences and development of students in receipt of the Bursary. The interviews address a broader range of issues related to the students’ educational and life trajectory than has previously been the case.

This expanded purpose of the interviews through the Imperial Bursary Project has three main, interrelated benefits:

  • By locating students’ financial experience within the context of participants’ broader educational and life trajectories, the data will enable a more robust evaluation of the genuine role that the Bursary played in shaping the quality and enjoyment of the students’ experience.
  • A more holistic understanding of the experience of students from WP backgrounds allows Imperial to go beyond regulatory requirements, and to lead the way in evaluating how a university can support this important group, not only through bursary schemes, but through its broader approach to education and the student experience.
  • The rich data obtained lends itself to comparison with (a) the broader student body within Imperial and (b) bursary-recipients from other UK universities, and this comparative potential will allow the research findings to contribute to sector knowledge about how to move the WP agenda forward.

In collaboration with the Strategic Planning team, we have conducted 74 interviews to date. We have found that the bursary has had an overall positive impact for students, who have found value in it several common ways, including: the ability to attend university, taking the financial burden away from parents/families, reducing their own anxiety about finances, increasing their freedom for their university life, and helping with accommodation costs. For at least one third of all students interviewed, the bursary was essential to their being able to attend university. For example, when asked what the student might do if they didn’t have the Bursary next year, many said they would need to undertake paid work in addition to their studies, or would have to take on additional summer jobs. Many students discussed the well-being aspect of the bursary, and the feeling that Imperial cares about and supports them, and makes them feel ‘welcome’ at Imperial.

Last updated November 2023