Memorandum from the University of Wolverhampton
1. The University of Wolverhampton welcomes
the opportunity to bring the following observations and statistics
to the attention of the Select Committee as part of its contribution
to the Committee's discussion regarding issues affecting student
retention in UK Higher Education.
2. The University is concerned about rates of
student withdrawal and has developed a student support strategy
which addresses the need to identify the most vulnerable groups
and individuals as early as possible and concentrate material,
emotional and learning support resources accordingly.
3. The University has witnessed growth in a
range of pressures which collectively and individually induce
withdrawal decisions especially amongst particularly vulnerable
groups which, due to the University's successful pursuit of Government
supported access, widening participation and lifelong learning
objectives, constitute a large and growing proportion of its student
4. The steady decline in the numbers of mature
students applying to University has been a direct consequence
of the abolition of grants and the introduction of loans and fees.
UCAS statistics for year 2000 entry report a levelling off of
this trend but only with regard to those over 25 years of age
"accepting" a place. The number of mature "applicants"
remains down by around 5 per cent. Even amongst those accepting
a place, the number of males over 25 years of age has continued
5. For those mature students who do enter HE,
the situation as far as financial support is concerned, is inadequate
and confusing. Bursaries for mature students with dependants,
payable to those entering in autumn 2000, have now disappeared.
So, for their second year studies, these students must negotiate
a complex procedure of means tested Childcare Grants administered
not by the Universities, but by their LEAs. If a student is awarded
the Childcare Grant (max £150 per week per child) they will
no longer be able to claim the lone parent grant. The cost of
full-time childcare is now around £80.00 per week.
6. Mature students without dependants have no
dedicated financial assistance other than the normal loans, the
Mature Students' Allowance having been abolished some time ago.
7. Mature students often bring debt with them
since many may be re-entering full-time education due to redundancy
and the need to follow different career paths.
8. The recent survey conducted by researchers
at South Bank University (published December 2000) showed that
women students with dependants were the least able to take up
part-time employment with rates of pay that would make a material
difference when one subtracts the cost of childcare.
9. The University had allocated £364,000
in means tested Mature Students' Bursaries by October 2000 (up
to £1,000 per student). Many of these students may struggle
to complete their courses despite additional support available
through Hardship Funds and Loans.
10. The need to supplement income by working
part-time during term time is being felt by a growing proportion
of "full-time" students. The University of Wolverhampton's
on campus Job Shop had 1,156 full-time students registered for
part-time work at January 2001. The number of students seeking
part-time employment has increased by 75 per cent over the last
three years. The South Bank survey showed that these working students
would be predominantly those from lower socio/economic groups
who would be receiving little if any parental or family support.
11. As far back as 1996 the GMB/NUS "Students
at work" survey demonstrated that 40 per cent of students
were employed during term time and working an average of 12.5
hours per week. A Unison survey published in January 2001, to
coincide with the launch of a Student Employee Support Web Site,
put the proportion of students taking up part-time work during
the academic year at 75 per cent with an average of 20 hours per
12. The UK has the highest rates of working
students in Europe and the Office of National Statistics predicts
that by 2006, 50 per cent of all under 20s in the labour force
will be students.
13. The correlation between the need to undertake
a substantial amount of paid work and poor academic performance
and progression is obvious. Students are struggling with financial
pressures, particularly the need to keep accumulated debt at a
manageable level, and pressure to perform well academically and
meet assessment deadlines.
14. A University Life Survey conducted by the
University of Wolverhampton Students' Union in December 2000 shows
that 50 per cent of students sampled saw "money and debt"
as the main threat to their successfully completing their course.
The need to meet academic deadlines was cited as the second most
15. The NUS Student Hardship Survey 1999 found
that 73.3 per cent of full-time undergraduates were in debt (and
76.5 per cent of postgraduates). The level of accumulated debt
is significant averaging between £8,000 and £13,000.
Debt aversion is having an impact on application rates. The survey
on take up of Student Loans conducted by South Bank (December
2000) showed that of 2000 students surveyed, 60 per cent know
of friends who had been put off entry to higher education by the
prospect of debt. A UCAS survey of those who opted to defer entry
into higher education for a year showed that the need to earn
money prior to embarking upon full-time study was a major reason
underpinning the decision. Many of those who withdraw from courses
may have a similar motivation with the intention of returning
later or continuing studies on a part-time basis. Hard evidence
to support this is difficult to accumulate since, in our experience
at Wolverhampton, withdrawing students are reluctant to be specific
about the reasons for leaving. Many see leaving because of financial
pressure as carrying a stigma and prefer to disappear quietly.
The University systematically carries out "exit polling"
procedures but this produces a very low response rate.
16. The University of Wolverhampton Students'
Union Welfare and Advice Service dealt with 1,451 financial hardship
related cases between February 1999 and August 2000 representing
42% of its total case load. The University's professional Student
Counselling Service has reported a 20 per cent increase in referrals
where students are presenting with stress related to work load
(both academic and domestic) and financial pressure.
17. The University's Student Financial Support
Unit which administers the Institution's Hardship Funds, reported
a doubling in the number of applications for assistance and awards
made between September and December 2000 (1,500 cases resulting
in 800 awards).
The new Student Financial Support
regime is debt dependent and extremely complex.
At the same time institutions are
encouraged eg by the payment of premium funding based on post
code analysis, to promote the benefits of higher education to
disadvantaged and financially vulnerable groups.
Due to absolute necessity as well
as debt aversion students are undertaking paid term time work
well in excess of the maximum 15 hours per week recommended by
the 80 on-campus student employment bureaus (Job Shops) across
Universities are driven by stringent
quality assurance regimes to demand high and consistent academic
performance levels with perhaps additional pressures imposed by
Semester based systems which assess twice a year.
These factors combine to make increased withdrawals
and lower retention levels inevitable in those institutions dedicated
to a mass higher education agenda but which, at the same time,
attain higher levels of social inclusion and added value.
University of Wolverhampton