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OFFA asks universities and colleges to do more work with schools and communities to raise aspirations and attainment

The Office for Fair Access (OFFA) has today called on universities and colleges to step up the long-term work they do reaching out to schools and communities where few progress to higher education.

Building on good practice across universities and colleges, for the first time OFFA is asking all English universities and colleges that want to charge tuition fees of more than the basic fee  [note 1]  to consider how they will work to raise aspirations and academic attainment among children from as young as seven.

Access agreements for 2014-15 will have to include plans for long-term outreach activity, including how universities and colleges are working with children from as early as Key Stage 2 onwards, and with adults who have the potential to be mature students. Such activity might include campus visits that give a taste of university life, or activities that build enthusiasm for a subject [note 2].

In its new guidance [note 3] on how to draw up an access agreement for 2014-15, OFFA says outreach work with bright students in low participation neighbourhoods and schools is one of the most important ways in which universities and colleges can improve access.

Professor Les Ebdon, Director of Fair Access to Higher Education, said: “Sustained, well-targeted outreach such as summer schools, masterclasses and mentoring can be very effective and we want to see more of it.

“Often, people in schools and communities where very few progress to higher education simply don’t consider university as an option, or don’t get the right advice and guidance on GCSE and post-16 options, even though they have the potential to succeed. OFFA has long emphasised the important contribution that universities and colleges can make in tackling this by raising aspirations and also improving attainment.

“Many universities already run excellent outreach programmes. However, these tend to focus on young people aged 14-19, and, while work with teenagers is very useful and should continue, we are keen to see more long-term schemes that start at a younger age and persist through the school career. It’s crucial that outreach encompasses those who are not yet on the pathway to higher education as well as those who are already considering it.

“We would also like to see more outreach for adults, such as schemes involving employers, because it’s never too late to benefit from the life-changing experience of higher education.”

The guidance on 2014-15 access agreements, the first to be published under the directorship of Professor Ebdon, shows how OFFA will put into practice its new approach of ‘greater challenge and greater support’. As well as a stronger push on outreach, the guidance asks for:

  • An increased focus on evidence and evaluation. We are asking institutions to build in evaluation of their access measures right from the start so they can ensure that what they are doing is effective, improve understanding of what works best and share best practice. This is part of a major drive to improve the evidence base on access and the successful retention of students.
  • Greater collaboration between institutions. We believe that collaborative outreach is one of the most effective ways to improve access to higher education as a whole over the long-term. Working together is more efficient (several universities engage as a group with the same schools and colleges rather than trying to do so individually) and maximises the number of students reached through outreach programmes.
  • Greater consultation with students. We are interested in how institutions have involved students in the design, implementation and monitoring of the access agreement, for example through their student union.

Notes to editors

  1. All English universities and colleges that want to charge tuition fees of more than the basic fee in the academic year 2014-15 need to submit an access agreement to OFFA by 8 April 2013. Access agreements set out the fees an institution wishes to charge and the access measures it will put in place to sustain or improve access and student success. Access measures include outreach (e.g. summer schools, mentoring, after-school tuition, links with schools and colleges in disadvantaged areas and activities to improve retention and success), and financial support such as bursaries and scholarships. Student success includes work to retain students, help them achieve a good degree and get a job after graduation. OFFA will announce its decisions on 2014-15 access agreements in July 2013.
  2. Existing long-term outreach work by universities and colleges includes:
    • Nottingham Trent University: outreach work includes an initiative to engage children aged 7 to 14 and their families in out-of-school learning. More information
    • Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance: outreach work targets participants from early years (0-5) through to adults in further education colleges and the informal/non-formal learning sector. More information
    • IntoUniversity: a scheme involving a number of university partners, which provides tutoring and mentoring for children and young people from primary age upwards in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the country. More information
  3. OFFA publication 2013/01, How to produce an access agreement for 2014-15, is published today. 

For further information, email press@offa.org.uk or call Zita Adamson, Communications Manager at OFFA, on 0117 931 7272 or Sophie Mason, Communications and Press Adviser, on 0117 931 7204.


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