Student Progression: Smartcard Bursaries and the Students FIRST Project

Photo of a brass compassThe JISC funded Students FIRST Project has been improving the use of bursary schemes for purchasing learning materials and other services at the University of East London and Anglia Ruskin University, in conjunction with AMOSSHE and John Smith’s Booksellers.


The Students FIRST project pulled together a group of technologies – financial information app, bursary on a smarcard, and social messaging tools (texting) – to help improve progression and retention. However, there were some challenges in this approach:

  • technologies, such as smartcard or mobile apps, may be used in a “scattergun” approach and need to be part of a strategic service delivery
  • staff can be unwilling to engage with new technologies; for example, because they don’t want to remember additional logins
  • staff must be trained in the use of any new technologies, but it can be difficult to find the resource to do so.


Access to the bursary is staggered according to student progression; i.e. a student must progress to the second year of their studies in order to receive the second installment. Students can then purchase from a list of products specified by their institution, such as books, art materials, nursery fees, campus accommodation, etc. Almost 74% of students surveyed at one university found that the bursary was beneficial. Other benefits include:

  • establishing a clear link between the spend on books and academic achievement
  • a targeted bursary encourages students to achieve and progress
  • such a bursary also equalises opportunity across the student body; for example, one student said “I have access to books that otherwise I wouldn’t be able to own and progress further”.


A collaborative approach to this project was taken with a mix of educational and commercial providers and this gave the project team the opportunity to draw up guidance materials on working across different sectors. Recommendations include:

  • taking a service design approach can help you to understand student needs, expose failpoints in service delivery, and build collaborative relationships between departments/institutions and providers
  • sharing data between institutions can be a cause for concern, so consider alternatives such as using separate hard drives to store data
  • actively engage with technologies with which students are familiar, such as mobile apps, to encourage engagement.

Further Information

If you would like to find out more about this project, the following resources may help:

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