Aspire Engage and value for money

Introduction

Universities introduce Aspire Engage schemes for a variety of strategic reasons:

  • As part of their Access and Participation plan and a way to provide support to WP students.
  • To aid recruitment
  • To aid retention and improve progression
  • To support student study and attainment

Universities that introduce an Aspire Engage scheme also want to know that the scheme represents value for money particularly compared to cash bursaries.
Aspire Engage compared to cash bursaries
Aspire Engage schemes have a number of advantages compared to cash bursaries:

  1. Aspire Engage funds can be targeted to support strategic objectives:
    Universities can determine how the funds are used and ensure that their Aspire Engage scheme does support their strategic objectives and they receive detailed data on how the funds are used and this data can be correlated to progression and attainment.
  2. Funds remain with the university until students have purchased goods or services
    With Aspire Engage schemes there is a cash flow advantage as funds remain with the university until students have purchased goods.
  3. Not all the funds will be spent
    With cash bursaries the total amount of the funds allocated will leave the university once the award has been made. With Aspire Engage schemes this is not the case and the finds committed are not fully used as there are funds unspent by students. This is the result of there being funds being unspent by students who cease their studies at the university and small “orphan” amounts across a large number of accounts.
    Many universities see this lower overall expenditure as advantageous; they know more of the funds provided are being spent on goods that support study and student life then is the case with cash bursaries whilst at the same time there are funds left that can be used in other ways to support students. In our experience, there are two common usages of unspent funds with many adding those monies to their hardship funds and with others adding the monies to their student services budget.
  4. Funds can be directed towards University owned or subsidised services
    On a number of Aspire Engage schemes services such as catering, printing, local transport, the gym and SU clubs and societies are included to encourage student participation and time on campus. Often these are services either owned by or subsidised by the university so some of the Aspire Engage funds are re-cycled to the benefit of the university.
  5. There are other benefits that have a financial value – increased recruitment and increased retention being the two main ones. Improving student retention by 1% for 1st year students going into their second year of study is worth around £750k on a typical Aspire Engage scheme.
Typical spending patterns

For Aspire Engage schemes that benefit 1st year students, the typical spending pattern where funds can be rolled over to the second and third years of study is:

Some universities see this lower overall expenditure as advantageous; they know more of the funds provided are being spent on goods that support study and student life then is the case with cash bursaries whilst at the same time there are funds left that can be used in other ways to support students.

How and when unspent funds are used

It is entirely up to the university as to how unspent funds are used.  In our experience, there are two common usages of unspent funds with many adding those monies to their hardship funds and with others adding the monies to their student services budget.

The when is also entirely up to the university.  We see three models; with use it or lose it schemes the unspent funds are repurposed at the end of the academic year; with other schemes universities either wait until the benefitting students have graduated or release the funds over years 2 and 3.  A typical phased release would be:

  • At the start of year 2, release 40% of the unspent funds at that point.
  • At the start of year 3, release 40% of the unspent funds at that point.
  • Release all remaining funds after graduation.

An example of how this value is realised

Taking a typical bursary scheme that provides 4000 students with £200, with a cash bursary there is an immediate £800k outflow for the university and there is no data or evidence on how those funds have been spent or how they have benefitted students.  The comparison with Aspire Engage is:

By moving cash bursaries to Aspire, there is an 18% reduction in cash outflow and those funds can be re-purposed for hardship, student services or other student related activity.  The savings are often greater and being able to repurpose 25% of committed funds is not untypical.  In addition, on most Aspire Engage schemes there are additional benefits to be realised from improved recruitment and retention.

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