Learning from the past: National Scholarship Programme (NSP): Part of The Edge Foundation’s ‘Learning from the past’ series

Andrew Gunn, Helen Carasso

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report


Even before fees for UK undergraduates were introduced in the 1990s, the extent to which such charges would deter university applicants was being widely debated (NCIHE 1997). Intuitively it was assumed that the prospect of making a contribution towards fees would disproportionately discourage applications from those parts of society for which the participation rate was already lower, such as young people from low-income households and mature students.

This concern, and evidence that graduates can expect social, health and financial benefits from their time at university, made it a political imperative for any proposals to introduce undergraduate fees to be accompanied by measures intended to cushion their impact on such potentially cost-sensitive applicants; if these safeguards were in place, it was argued, the benefits of higher education would be equally accessible to all. With each fee-increase at universities in England, from £1000 in 1998, to £3000 in 2006 and then £9000 in 2012, packages of means-testing, student support and regulatory requirements were therefore introduced – each a compromise between the government’s desire to contain the costs it was incurring from an expanding higher education sector with then- current thinking about barriers to participation.

In parallel, the impact of these fee and funding changes on access to, and widening participation in, higher education has been tracked increasingly closely, with the government’s Director for Fair Access and Participation requiring detailed annual monitoring reports from each provider. Within a few years of the initial introduction of fees, independent research and institutional data both showed that perceptions of cost and debt among applicants were not a major factor in their decisions about whether to apply (Callender and Jackson 2005, Callender and Mason 2017, Harrison and Hatt 2012). Nevertheless, political and public discourse continued to focus on the assumption that this was the case. We can see there is a substantial policy history here. But who remembers it? Is there anything worth remembering? And if we choose to forget it, does that matter?
Original languageEnglish
PublisherThe Edge Foundation
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2021


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