Scholarships, grants, and bursaries: Widening participation

Widening participation aims to support and encourage students whose personal circumstances put them at a disadvantage when pursuing higher education. Universities and colleges offer dedicated scholarships, grants, and bursaries as part of this.

What’s a widening participation scholarship, grant or bursary?

Widening participation (WP) is a strategy between governments and the higher education sector in the UK, to support students from particular backgrounds that are traditionally underrepresented at universities and colleges, to pursue these paths.

This may include students who are:

  • the first in their family to go to university or college
  • are currently or have been in care
  • from particular ethnic groups, such as black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME)
  • from low socio-economic groups (i.e. families with low income)
  • in a school or live in an area where low numbers of students go to university or college
  • mature students who fall into one of the above categories

In short, the aim is to make the student population on campuses as diverse as possible.

A key part of this help is offering specific financial support to these students who might be at a disadvantage when applying to or going to university. This is often referred to as ‘widening participation funding,’ ‘widening access funding,’ or something similar.

This funding doesn’t have to be repaid.

Worried about the cost of university? Separate fact from fiction when it comes to what you’ll actually pay, or learn more about the student finance available to you.

What can you get?

Widening participation funding can come in different forms:

  • a one-off payment or series of cash payments you can put towards your living or study expenses
  • a tuition fee reduction, for one of or multiple years of your course
  • a package of discounted items and services, such as accommodation or travel
  • a combination of some, or all, of these

There may be other, non-financial benefits for students once they arrive at university, such as access to mentors, or career-building opportunities, like job workshops.

Plus, widening participation can support students prior to and throughout their application journey. This includes taking their personal circumstances into consideration when reviewing their application, and deciding whether to make them an offer.

This might be something to ask about on an open day

Examples of widening participation scholarships and bursaries offered by universities

As you can see from the examples below, what’s on offer varies by university:

  • Example 1: £1,000 residency fee discount, or £500 travel bursary in first year.
  • Example 2: £1,250 in first year.
  • Example 3: £2,000 per year.
  • Example 4: combination of cash bursaries, fee reductions, and discounted university services worth £3,000 in first year (with subsequent awards for years two to five).
  • Example 5: cash award worth 10% of tuition fees.

To find what extra funding your UCAS choices offer, visit their websites, or contact them. There will be some work involved for you, but the rewards are well worth it.

Widening participation funding sometimes overlaps with other types of funding that seek to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds, or those overcoming difficult circumstances, like these:

Eligibility criteria

Eligibility for a widening participation award can really vary, because WP aims to support students from a range of backgrounds and groups.

Plus, each university or college will have their own specific WP activities, including special outreach programmes they run with local schools. There may be cases where funding is only available to students who’ve participated in these.

Here’s a quick overview of what universities and colleges usually look at when assessing a student’s eligibility for WP funding:

  • Your postcode – this is used to determine if you live in an area with a low proportion of students pursuing higher education, or ‘an area with financial, social, or economic deprivation’ (as set out by one university).
  • Your school – universities and colleges partner with local schools which have low numbers of students moving onto higher education, sometimes referred to as ‘aspiring schools.’
  • Your household income – you may be eligible if this is below a certain amount.
  • You’ve participated in an outreach or access programme run by that university or college.
  • If you’re living in, or have lived in local authority care, or are a young carer.
  • You qualify for home fee status and live in the UK.
  • You’ve accepted an offer for a qualifying, full-time undergraduate course at that university.
  • You meet the grade requirements and conditions that come with your offer.

There’s usually some basic criteria to meet too – namely, that this is your first degree, you’re applying to a qualifying course, and you qualify for home fee status.

Other types of funding stress that applicants must meet the conditions of their offers. While this is still usually the case for WP funding, you may be shown more flexibility if you’re a qualifying student.

We recommend carefully reading the terms and conditions of any widening participation scholarship or bursary you’re applying for, so you understand what criteria you must satisfy, plus anything that might make you ineligible. For example, students at one university who receive their care leavers' bursary, or are applying to nursing, midwifery, social work, and allied health courses, don’t qualify for their widening access bursary.

What student finance are you automatically eligible for? Explore our complete guides to undergraduate finance in EnglandScotlandWales, and Northern Ireland.

How to apply

Some awards will require you to complete an online application form to apply for a widening participation award. Here you may be asked about your biggest achievements, why you want to study that particular course, or your ambitions for the future.

On the other hand, universities may simply use the information you’ve already provided in your UCAS and/or student finance applications to make their decision. They’ll get in touch if you qualify for a widening participation award (or any other funding).

Open day questions for widening participation scholarships

  • What widening participation funding do you offer?
  • Is funding attached to any specific widening participation programmes you run? What do these consist of? Are they limited to local students, or students at particular schools?
  • What’s the eligibility criteria for the widening participation funding you offer?
  • Is there anything in particular that might make a student ineligible for a widening participation award, that they should watch out for?
  • How can students find out if they live in an area or go to a school that qualifies for widening participation funding?
  • If a student receives other extra funding, like a care leaver’s bursary or low income bursary, will this affect their chances of receiving widening participation funding?
  • Do I need to apply, or will you use the information students provide UCAS or their student finance body?
  • When will students find out if they are eligible for a widening participation award?
  • How many WP awards are available each year?
  • Is this a cash award, a reduction in tuition fees, or a combination of both?
  • Are there any extra benefits that come with receiving a widening participation award?
  • Is a widening participation scholarship or bursary subject to review once a student arrives at university?

Tips for applying to a widening participation scholarship, grant or bursary

  • Provide accurate information – many widening participation financial awards are allocated based on the information you provide in your UCAS and student finance applications. This is another important reason to make sure what you state here is accurate, and that you submit these on time, or as early as you can. Remember, you need to apply for student finance for each year of your course.
  • Consider all funding on offer – pend some time looking at all the funding offered by a particular university or college, to help you decide which you should apply for. There are a lot of different types out there, some of which can overlap with or sound familiar to WP funding.
    • For instance, should a nursing applicant who’s been in care apply for a nursing bursary, a widening participation bursary, or a care leaver’s allowance? Are they eligible to apply for all, or only some? Do the rules vary for a WP award offered by another university?
    • Also, weigh up what different awards give you – whether it’s cash in your pocket, a tuition fee reduction, an accommodation discount, or something else – to figure out which works out best for you financially. Our guide to calculating your student budget might help.
    • If you need advice, get in touch with the university or college and explain your situation.

  • Participate in outreach programmes – a widening participation financial award offered by a university or college may only be available to those who take part in an access programme they run in the local area.
    • If the opportunity comes up, grab it. It might seem like another commitment you need to find time for, but it can offer many benefits. As well as learning about funding opportunities you wouldn’t otherwise come across, you could get support when applying to university, and opportunities to try new things like visiting a campus or attending a summer school.
    • Keep an eye out for information about access programmes such as on notice boards around school, or in emails from tutors.

Learn about other additional funding available, including sport, music, and academic scholarships.