Frequently asked questions
If you have a question that is not answered here or elsewhere on our website, please email us at email@example.com or call us on 0117 931 7171 and we will do our best to help.
- Who do access agreements cover?
- What are ‘higher’ tuition fees?
- What are ‘basic’ tuition fees?
- What is an ‘access agreement’?
- What do we mean by ‘fair access’?
- What is a ‘minimum bursary’?
- What is the difference between a ‘bursary’ and a ‘scholarship’?
- What is the National Scholarship Programme?
- I’ve been contacted by my child’s university who say I need to ‘consent to share’ my financial information – what does this mean?
- Can OFFA give my son/daughter a bursary?
- I come from Wales/Scotland/Northern Ireland – what am I entitled to?
- I want to complain about a university or college – can you help?
- What powers does OFFA have?
- When would OFFA fine or sanction a university or college?
Access agreements cover home/EU students studying full-time, or at least 25 per cent of a full-time course, on publicly funded undergraduate courses and postgraduate teacher training courses. Other postgraduate courses do not fall under OFFA’s remit.
All publicly funded universities and colleges in England that want to charge higher tuition fees for such courses must have an access agreement approved by us.
‘Higher’ tuition fees are annual fees above the basic fee level up to a maximum cap that is set by government. Higher fees are also sometimes referred to as ‘variable fees’ or ‘top-up fees’.
For students who start courses in the academic year 2012-13, the maximum fee will be £9,000 for a full-time course, £6,750 for a part-time course, and £4,500 for work placements or study years abroad. Students who started their courses in 2011-12 or earlier remain subject to the lower fee caps that were in place at the time they began their courses, with some exceptions (e.g. if they take a break longer than a vacation period, or change from part-time to full-time study or vice versa).
Fee levels may rise by an inflationary amount each year, but the government has decided that the maximum fee cap will remain £9,000 in 2013-14.
The ‘basic’ level is the maximum fee that universities and colleges can charge if they do not have an access agreement approved by OFFA. For students who start courses in 2012-13 the basic annual tuition fee is £6,000 for full-time courses, £4,500 for part-time courses and £3,000 for work placements or study years abroad.
An access agreement is a document setting out how a university or college charging higher fees intends to safeguard and promote fair access to higher education through its outreach work, financial support etc. It also includes targets and milestones, set by the university/college itself. Find an access agreement for a particular university/college.
When we talk about ‘fair access’, we mean removing the barriers to higher education, particularly financial barriers, that students from lower income and other under-represented backgrounds face.
Before 2012-13, universities and colleges who charged higher tuition fees had to give a minimum bursary to students entitled to receive the full state Maintenance Grant or Special Support Grant. In 2011-12, the minimum bursary was £338 although in practice, most universities and colleges gave much more than the minimum bursary – the typical bursary given to students on the full Maintenance Grant in 2011-12 was around £900 a year. Students who started their course in 2011-12 or before must continue to receive a minimum bursary.
From 2012-13, following Government changes to student finance, there will be no minimum bursary. Lower income students may be eligible for support under the new National Scholarship Programme.
Universities and colleges sometimes use these terms interchangeably. However OFFA defines a bursary as a cash award where the student’s eligibility is either wholly or partially dependent on their assessed household income. We define a scholarship as an award where eligibility is not dependent on the recipient’s assessed household income. For example, some universities and colleges offer scholarships based on academic criteria or whether the student lives in the local area.
The National Scholarship Programme (NSP) is a new scheme starting in the 2012-13 academic year to help disadvantaged students with the cost of going to university. Jointly funded by the government and universities and colleges, it will offer eligible students a £3,000 support package to help with the cost of going to university. Find out more about the NSP.
I’ve been contacted by my child’s university who say I need to ‘consent to share’ my financial information – what does this mean?
Most bursaries and scholarships are paid directly into students’ bank accounts using the financial information provided on your child’s loan application form. However, the Student Loans Company (SLC) can only process bursaries in this way if you and your child ‘consent to share’ the financial information you give them on this form.
No, we do not give bursaries or any other form of financial help. Bursaries are awarded by individual universities and colleges. If your child is not getting a bursary and you believe they should be, your child should contact their university. Find out more about our remit.
OFFA’s remit only covers students who normally live in England so if you are not resident in England we recommend you check with the university/college in question whether they can offer you a bursary or other support.
For information on what state support you are entitled to, see:
Student Finance Northern Ireland if you normally live in Northern Ireland
the Student Awards Agency for Scotland if you normally live in Scotland
Student Finance Wales if you normally live in Wales.
If you have a complaint about the bursary or scholarship you are receiving, you must first go through the normal complaints procedures at the university or college concerned. If you are still not satisfied, you can take individual complaints to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education which runs a free independent student complaints scheme.
However, if your complaint is systemic (i.e. not just about your individual bursary but about the way your university or college is paying bursaries for all students), please bring the matter to our attention.
Complaints about the content and teaching of courses are matters for individual universities and colleges and do not come under our remit.
There are two sanctions open to us if a university or college seriously and wilfully breaches its access agreement. We can:
- direct HEFCE (the Higher Education Funding Council for England) or the Teaching Agency to deduct a fine from the university or college’s grant or suspend part of its grant until it has put matters right
- refuse to renew the university’s or college’s access agreement, thereby preventing it from charging full-time undergraduate students tuition fees above the standard level for a period after its access agreement has expired.
See ‘When would OFFA fine or sanction a university or college?’ below.
We will only use the sanctions listed above if in our opinion a university or college has committed a serious and wilful breach of its access agreement, for example by charging higher fees than set out in its access agreement or by failing to deliver the outreach and retention measures it has committed itself to. We would not impose a sanction solely because a university or college has not met the targets or milestones it has set itself.
When looking at a potential breach, we consider each case individually, taking into account the efforts made to comply with the access agreement. For example, if a university or college spends less than intended on outreach because of unavoidable delays in implementing a project, we will want assurance on its future outreach expenditure but are unlikely to apply a fine. Similarly, if a university makes a mistake in delivering financial support to students, we would require it to rectify the situation and pay any shortfall, but we would not necessarily apply a fine.