The education maintenance allowance increased the likelihood that pupils would expect to apply to university, new research has suggested.
But the study by academics at the University of Essex also found that the impact of the allowance on changing attitudes seemed to be greater for pupils who did not have older siblings.
To analyse the impact of financial aid on expectations about applying to university, the researchers looked at the EMA – a means-tested weekly allowance provided to low-income pupils between the ages of 16 and 19 in post-compulsory education.
The grant was introduced in England in 2004 but scrapped in 2010, although the Labour Party has called for it to be brought back.
Before its national roll-out, the EMA was piloted in a number of local authorities. The researchers hypothesised that these areas were more likely to be aware of the policy than those which received it later.
Analysing data collected from around 15,000 Year 9 students in schools in England interviewed in 2004, the researchers found that living in a former EMA pilot area increased children’s perceived likelihood of applying to university.
Living in a former pilot area decreased the probability of perceiving to be “not at all likely” and “not very likely” to go to university by around 1 percentage point, and increased the probability of perceiving to be “very likely to apply to university” by over two percentage points – effects the researchers describe as “not negligible”. The trend was driven by students eligible for free school meals.
“The early availability of EMA in the pilot areas is likely to have increased awareness of the existence of financial aid, thus boosting the perceived likelihood to apply to university,” the paper says.
“Availability of financial aid is particularly salient for free school meal eligible students who are those more likely to be eligible for the EMA and more in need of financial aid.”
However, the research found that the EMA did not seem to have this impact on pupils with older siblings. The researchers speculate that access to the EMA may have “induced older siblings to attend university themselves”, who were not included in the study.
“This may have led to a shift of family resources towards the older siblings (and away from the younger siblings), thus reducing the positive impact of the awareness of the EMA on the perceived likelihood of applying to university for younger siblings.”
The researchers conclude by saying that improving information on available financial aid could reduce the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students attending university.