The latest annual monitoring report by the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) published today (Wednesday 4 July 2012) shows that in 2010-11 English universities and colleges invested significantly more in outreach activity to raise aspirations and attainment among people from lower-income backgrounds and other groups currently under-represented in higher education.
The report, a joint publication with the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) [note 2], shows that outreach expenditure on activities such as summer schools [note 3] rose by 15 per cent to £45.7 million (up from £39.6 million in 2009-10).
Sir Martin Harris, Director of Fair Access to Higher Education, said: “We are keen to see more investment in sustained, well-targeted outreach and so warmly welcome this increase in expenditure.”
OFFA’s monitoring of 2010-11 access agreements also reveals new, more detailed information on the access progress made by individual universities. For the first time OFFA asked universities and colleges in England to grade their progress against each target they set themselves [note 4] rather than grade their overall progress. It also asked them to provide data showing their progress against targets for each academic year since 2006-07, so illustrating the trend in their progress rather than just the change in an individual year. In addition, OFFA asked universities and colleges to provide a ‘commentary’ setting their access work in context, highlighting any particular challenges they had faced and, if they had not made as much progress as wished, explaining the reasons for this. Both the assessments and commentaries are published on the OFFA website [note 5].
Commenting on the change in how OFFA collects and reports data, Sir Martin said: “This new approach provides increased transparency and accountability and also gives us more detailed information and context. This will enable us to have more meaningful dialogue at both institutional and sector level and help us monitor progress more effectively.
“We regard this as the first step in achieving our objective of providing both greater support and greater challenge to universities and colleges over the coming years.”
Other key findings from the report are that:
- universities and colleges continued to make progress in targeting financial support at students most in need [note 6]. They spent £378.1 million on bursaries and scholarships for students from lower income and other under-represented groups, up from £363.5 million in 2009-10. The vast majority of this money (80.8 per cent) was spent on students from the lowest income group – those in receipt of a full grant
- in total, 432,000 students from lower income backgrounds and other under-represented groups received a bursary or scholarship in 2010-11 compared to 413,000 in 2009-10. Almost three-quarters of students receiving a bursary or scholarship (74.1 per cent) were from the lowest income group (up from 67.3 per cent in 2009-10)
- in total, universities and colleges spent £424.2 million on access measures, up from £403.7 million in 2009-10. Although total spend on access measures rose, it represents a smaller proportion of the income universities and colleges received from charging higher fees [note 7] – 24.4 per cent compared to 25.3 per cent in 2009-10. This is because higher fee income rose in 2010-11 (see below)
- total higher fee income was £1.74 billion, up from £1.60 billion in 2009-10 (reasons for this include an increase in the total number of students and an inflationary increase in the maximum fee).
Commenting on the report’s overall findings, Sir Martin said: “Generally, we have been encouraged in this round of monitoring both by the levels of expenditure and the level of progress reported by institutions against their targets. As a whole the sector is making good progress in attracting and retaining under-represented students. However, as previous research by OFFA has already shown, progress is slow at the most selective universities despite significant investment and efforts on their part.
“We will now be using the findings from this round of monitoring to inform our ongoing dialogue with all institutions on performance and what works best to widen access and improve student retention and success.
“We also expect universities and colleges to reflect on and, where necessary, seek to address their current access performance in their future strategy and spend.”
For further information about access agreement monitoring, contact Zita Adamson, Communications Manager at OFFA, on 0117 931 7171, or Sophie Mason, Communications and Press Adviser at OFFA, on 0117 931 7204.
For further information about WPSA monitoring, contact Philip Walker, Head of Press and Media at HEFCE, on 0117 931 7363.
Notes for editors
- Read the full 2010-11 monitoring outcomes report (OFFA publication 2012/05, HEFCE publication 2012/13, Access agreement and widening participation strategic assessment monitoring: outcomes for 2010-11).
- The report also gives the findings of HEFCE’s monitoring of widening participation strategic assessments (WPSAs). In June 2009 HEFCE received WPSAs from all institutions that it funds with more than 100 (full-time equivalent) directly funded student places. WPSAs set out the position of widening participation (WP) in institutions’ missions and their strategic aims and objectives for WP. For more information on WPSA monitoring see HEFCE’s press release. BIS Ministers recently asked OFFA and HEFCE to develop a shared strategy on access and retention. For more information, see our response to the request.
- Outreach activities include, for example, masterclasses to help pupils improve their GCSE and A level grades or summer schools offering a taste of university life to pupils who may not have a family background in higher education.
- OFFA does not set targets. Each university or college sets its own targets and milestones, appropriate to what it needs to achieve. These must be agreed with OFFA and, where necessary, we work with individual universities and colleges to ensure targets are sufficiently challenging.
- Read institutions’ commentaries and assessment of their progress.
- Access agreements cover bursaries and scholarships directed at students from lower-income backgrounds and other groups that are under-represented in higher education at a national level. We define ‘lower income’ students as those with an assessed household income below £50,020. We define ‘lowest income’ students as those eligible for full state support – for students starting their studies in 2010-11, this means those with an assessed household income of less than £25,000.Many universities and colleges also provide financial support for students who are not in these groups – this expenditure is not included in OFFA data.
- ‘Higher fee income’ means income from fees above the basic level (the basic level was £1,310 in 2010-11 and £1,285 in 2009-10).
- 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 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 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, links with schools and colleges in disadvantaged areas and activities to improve retention and success) 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.