WPREU Bulletin
Evaluation of Financial Support - Greg Brown (WPREU)


This year’s Financial Support evaluation is well underway, with the first phase of research, a survey, receiving over 2000 responses. The survey ran for two weeks, coinciding with the University’s student money week. Once again, the survey was well-supported by colleagues from across the University, for which WPREU would like to extend its gratitude. This year's project is more specific in its focus, setting out to explore the relationship between financial support and term-time work, and how the two can be seen to impact on students’ academic engagement and experience specifically. We seek to map and unpick these relationships in order to better understand the effectiveness of the University’s financial provision, in both mitigating students need to work excessive hours during term-time, and in facilitating the academic engagement of students from all backgrounds. An accompanying literature review exploring the existing research and policy context related to financial support and student employment will be available on the WPREU web pages in July.

Emerging findings from the survey suggest that there is little difference in the number of hours worked by students in receipt, and those not in receipt of financial support. Typically, research has suggested that there is an hour specific ‘tipping point’, at which work alongside study begins to have more negative than positive consequences for students. This has been identified as being between 15-20 hours per week, with many Universities’ (including Sheffield) urging students not to work over this threshold. Similarly, there was an even breakdown in where students in/not in receipt of financial support worked. This was split into on and off campus options, with interesting variations between the two. Those working on campus tended to work less hours, and be more comfortable asking for time off to focus on their studies compared to those working off campus. However, many working off campus noted that their employers were sympathetic towards their study commitments. Further, the majority of students in work (57%) do so without a contract that guarantees their working hours every week. The growing prevalence of these contracts across the wider labour market has been the subject of great debate, with some arguing that students are a group that benefit most from the ‘flexibility’ offered.

One major difference between those in receipt of financial support and those not comes in students self-reported funding sources. When asked how they pay for their accommodation and general living costs (over 90% of students regardless of financial support entitlement use a student finance loan to cover tuition), only 17% of those in receipt of financial support indicated their parents, family or partners helped pay for their accommodation. This is in contrast to 66% of those not in receipt of financial support noting their parents, family or partners helped with similar costs. This may suggest that bursaries make up the shortfall for students who can’t call on parental contributions, allowing them to work less hours than they would have otherwise, though further inquiry is needed.

Data collection continues with a series of semi-structured interviews. Interviews with students will be used to follow up on the themes identified in the survey, gathering more in-depth accounts of the impact financial support and term-time work have on students ability to engage with their studies. Participants have been purposively sampled, as to gather the perceptions of a cross-section of students, those:

  • In receipt of financial support (to varying degrees), who work during term-time, on campus (University-based employer)
  • In receipt of financial support (to varying degrees), who work during term-time, off campus
  • Not in receipt of financial support, who work during term-time (split 50/50 between on and off campus work)
  • In receipt of financial support (to varying degrees) who do not work during term-time

The full outcomes of this research are expected to be published in early July, and presented at the 2017 BERA conference in Brighton this coming September, as part of WPREU’s symposium entitled: ‘Academic Engagement and Transition in and Through Higher Education for 'Widening Participation' Students: Institutional evidence from the whole student lifecycle’.