Revised access agreements for 2012-13 have been approved for 25  English universities and colleges (24 higher education institutions and one further education college) to bring them within the criteria to bid for student number places from the ‘margin’ (see Notes to Editors, note 1), the Office for Fair Access announced today (Friday 2 December, 2011). OFFA has also approved new access agreements for ten further education colleges (FECs) that now plan to charge more than £6,000 for some directly-funded places.
Revised access agreements – key points
Under the revisions, necessitated by Government changes to ‘core’ student number controls, the 25 universities and college will be investing an extra £18.4m in access measures for students from lower-income families and other under-represented groups in 2015-16. This includes:
- an increase of £37.4m in fee waivers
- a reduction of £13.8m in bursaries and scholarships
- a reduction of £2.1m in outreach and retention measures.
In addition, these institutions are charging £16.3m less in their headline fees.
- 11 institutions have reduced their fee for some or all of their courses, mostly for foundation degrees and foundation years. Five institutions, the University of Chester, University of Cumbria, Institute of Education, Teesside University and Sparsholt College have reduced the fee for some or all of their first degrees (eg undergraduate honours degrees)
- fee reductions range from £50 to £2,900
- no institution has been allowed to change its targets or milestones
- all revised access agreements have been subject to the same rigorous scrutiny and assessed against the same criteria as the original 2012-13 access agreements.
Most universities and colleges have not revised their 2012-13 access agreement and have therefore not changed their fees or financial support packages. Those universities and colleges that have revised their access agreement must now inform all affected applicants of any changes to their fees or financial support package by Wednesday 7 December. This will give applicants who are disappointed with the changed package the opportunity to decide whether to change their application and apply elsewhere before the UCAS deadline of 15 January. Applicants will receive instructions from UCAS later today explaining how to make any changes to their application.
Commentating on the impact of the revisions, Sir Martin Harris, Director of Fair Access to Higher Education, said: “What we have seen is that in addition to reducing their headline fees by £16.3m, institutions have also significantly increased fee waivers. In short, money is not just being moved from one pot to another, there’s also additional investment, particularly in fee waivers, so reducing the net costs for some students.
“I am encouraged that expenditure on outreach and retention activity has largely been preserved as this is a particularly important area we are keen to protect. Sector-wide, institutions plan to spend £186.1m a year on such activities by 2015-16.
“As we expected, some institutions have chosen to move money out of bursaries and into fee waivers, so enabling them to reduce their net average fee. Importantly, there has been no net reduction in the overall financial support for any student. However, bursaries and fee waivers are not the same thing. Bursaries are money in a student’s pocket now whereas fee waivers reduce a loan that some students may not need to repay in full. We don’t yet know which will prove more effective in terms of supporting and protecting access and retention. Statistical analysis that we published last year shows that bursaries have had no impact on students’ university choices – in other words they have not been successful to date as a tool to improve access. However, this may change in the new landscape of significantly higher fees. Bursaries may also play an important role in student success and retention, which are now part of OFFA’s remit, and individual universities may have their own evidence in support of this.
“We will be doing further research on the relative effectiveness of bursaries and fee waivers in supporting and protecting access and retention and if evidence emerges that one method of financial support is more effective than another, then we will advise the Government and the sector accordingly.”
The new sector-wide picture
Updated sector-wide figures published by OFFA today for all institutions with 2012-13 access agreements show that:
- under their access agreements, English universities and colleges now plan to spend £757.5m a year by 2015-16 on access measures such as bursaries and scholarships, fee waivers, outreach activities (summer schools, mentoring etc) and measures to improve retention
- this includes £285.9m on bursaries and scholarships, £261.3m on fee waivers, £105.5m on outreach activities, £80.6m on retention measures, and £24.2m on other financial support
- the estimated sector fee average in 2012-13 is now £8,354, down from the £8,393 announced by OFFA earlier this year
- this reduces to £8,071 (down from £8,161) when fee waivers are included.
Notes to editors
- The 25 institutions (24 HEIs and one FEC) with revised access agreements sought to reduce their net average fee after the government changed student number controls for 2012-13, removing 20,000 places from universities’ ‘core’ student number allocations and reallocating them to a ‘margin’. Institutions who wish to bid for places from the ‘margin’ can only do so if they are charging an average fee of £7,500 or less, once fee waivers are taken into account. They must also demonstrate demand and the quality of their provision. The Higher Education Funding Council for England is implementing the new student number control system for 2012-13 and will be letting universities/colleges know the outcome of their bids in February 2012. See www.hefce.ac.uk/news/hefce/2011/bids.htm for more information.
- The 24 HEIs that have revised their access agreements to bring them within the threshold for bidding for a share of the 20,000 places from the ‘margin’ are: Anglia Ruskin University, Aston University, Canterbury Christ Church University, University of Chester, University of Chichester, University of Cumbria, University of Gloucestershire, University of Hertfordshire, University of Huddersfield, Institute of Education, Leeds Trinity University College, London South Bank University, Nottingham Trent University, Roehampton University, Southampton Solent University, University College Plymouth St Mark and St John, St Mary’s University College, University Campus Suffolk, Teesside University, University of West London, University of Winchester, University of Wolverhampton, University of Worcester and York St John University. One FEC – Sparsholt College Hampshire – has also revised its agreement in order to bid for places from the ‘margin’.
- The ten FECs with new 2012-13 access agreements are: Bicton College, City College Brighton and Hove, Colchester Institute, Hartpury College, Lincoln College, Myerscough College, Plumpton College, South Essex College, Sussex Coast College Hastings and Sussex Downs College.
- OFFA has now approved 2012-13 access agreements for 149 institutions – 124 higher education institutions and 25 further education colleges. Since publishing our original decisions in July 2011, three FECs – Askham Bryan College, Blackpool and the Fylde College and Croydon College – have decided they no longer wish to have an access agreement for 2012-13 as they have reduced their fees to £6,000 or below. New access agreements for two further FECs are still under discussion. We expect to issue decisions shortly.
- The Office for Fair Access (OFFA) is an independent, non-departmental public body established under the Higher Education Act 2004 to help promote and safeguard fair access to higher education. The main way we do this is by approving and monitoring ‘access agreements’. All English universities and colleges offering full-time (and in future, part-time, subject to Parliamentary approval) undergraduate higher education courses must have an access agreement with us in order to charge higher fees. Access agreements set out the fees an institution wishes to charge and the access measures they will put in place to sustain or improve access and student retention. Access measures include outreach (e.g. summer schools, mentoring, after-school tuition and links with schools and colleges in disadvantaged areas) and financial support such as fee waivers, bursaries and scholarships. For more about OFFA, please see our website www.offa.org.uk, particularly the Quick Facts and FAQ in the Press section.
For further information, contact Zita Adamson, Communications Manager at OFFA, on 0117 931 7272 or 0117 931 7171.
 On analysis, two of the 27 institutions originally reported as submitting revised agreements submitted revisions outside of ‘core and margin’ proposals. In both cases, these revisions have led to an improved offer to students, either through increased financial support or fee reductions.
 In addition to the £18.4m figure, the bullets below include a further £3.1m of previously unallocated funds under the National Scholarship Programme. This £3.1m has now been allocated and so is not new money.
 See ‘Have bursaries influenced choices between universities?’, (OFFA 2010/06) at www.offa.org.uk/publications/.
 These show updated figures for all institutions with 2012-13 access agreements including the ten FECs with new access agreements. There are also 14 universities and colleges that have made changes to the benefit of students outside of the response to the new ‘core and margin’ system. See www.offa.org.uk/publications.