We define access activity (as opposed to fair access in general) as any activity that involves raising aspirations and attainment among potential applicants from under-represented groups and encouraging them to apply to and enter higher education. This includes activity directed at young or mature students aspiring to full- or part-time study. We particularly encourage sustained, co-ordinated activities that work with pupils and other potential applicants over a number of years.
A document setting out how a university or college charging higher fees intends to safeguard and promote fair access to higher education, for example through outreach work in schools to raise learners’ aspiration and attainment, or by giving financial support such as bursaries. It also includes targets and milestones, set by the university/college itself so that it can measure its progress, and sets out the tuition fees the university or college will charge. Access agreements must be approved by OFFA as a condition of the university or college charging higher fees, and they are therefore the main way that we can challenge universities and colleges to improve access.
Work to improve access, student success and progression as opposed to financial support that is given to students. For example, mentoring is an activity, but a scholarship is not. When we talk about access agreement investment we distinguish between money invested in activities and financial support.
Measures or expenditure from previous access agreements that the university or college will continue to deliver from the year that a new access agreement applies to, plus:
- any new measures that are delivered from the year of the new access agreement
- measures that were previously funded through other means; for example, collaborative working previously funded by Aimhigher.
The level of tuition fee up to which an access agreement is not required. This is set by the Government and varies according to year of entry. There are different basic fee levels for full-time, part-time, sandwich and year abroad/Erasmus years.
Black and minority ethnic
OFFA defines a bursary as a cash award where the student’s eligibility is either wholly or partially dependent on their assessed household income. By comparison, 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. However, some higher education providers use both the terms ‘bursary’ and ‘scholarship’ to mean any financial support offered to students.
Collaboration between multiple providers of higher education and other organisations to provide activities that support fair access. Collaboration could be done in a number of ways, for example between one university and further education colleges, other higher education providers, employers, third sector organisations, schools, colleges, training providers, local authorities and so on. Where a single university or college is delivering access activities to schools, colleges or other stakeholders, we would not normally define that as collaboration.
Information used by institutions which puts applicants’ attainment in the context of the circumstances in which it has been obtained; this is mainly information about educational, geo-demographic and socio-economic background.
When we refer to continuing students, we mean students who are in their second, or later, years of study. For example, students who were entrants in 2015-16 will be continuing students from 2016-17 until the completion of their course.
Current system students
Students who started their courses in September 2012 or later.
Students who already hold a higher education qualification and are studying a course that leads to a qualification equivalent to or lower than one they already hold, as defined in the Education (Student Support) Regulations 2011 (UK statutory instrument 2011 No. 1986). These students are not usually covered by fee regulations. For information about ELQ exceptions, see UK statutory instruments 2008 No. 1640; 2011 No. 1986, and 2014 No. 2765).
When we refer to entrants, or year of entry, we mean the academic year in which students started their courses, including those who deferred entry. For example, students who deferred entry from 2014-15 to 2015-16 would be classed as 2015-16 entrants. From 2016-17 onwards these students would be classified as continuing students. The definition of academic year is covered in the Education (Student Support) Regulations 2011 (UK statutory instrument 2011 No. 1986) within regulation 2.
The maximum regulated fee that can be charged under an access agreement. This is set by the Government and varies according to year of entry. There are different fee caps for full-time, part-time, sandwich and year abroad/Erasmus years.
Equality of opportunity for all those who have the potential to benefit from higher education, irrespective of their background, schooling or income. This term is often used with reference to the uneven distribution of under-represented students between universities and colleges across the higher education sector, in particular in referring to the universities with the most selective overall entry requirements where the pool of applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds is relatively small.
Fair access work
Work aimed at improving access of under-represented groups to a university/college or other institutions like it (whether measured against the background population, or the background population of qualified people).
Those full-time and part-time courses that are subject to regulated fees.
There are three main types of financial support given by universities and colleges to their students:
- bursaries and scholarships (financial awards paid to students)
- fee waivers (a discount on the tuition fee charged)
- ‘in-kind’ support, e.g. discounted accommodation, free entrance to sports facilities, or credit that the student can spend on campus facilities such as childcare or printing.
Typically, the criteria used by unviersities and colleges to decide whether a student gets financial support include:
- household or family income
- having spent time in local authority care
- academic merit
- the school or college that the student went to
- where the student lives, e.g. if they grew up in a neighbourhood where not many people go to university
- subject studied
Note: OFFA regulates financial support that is specifically for students from low income backgrounds and other under-represented groups, so the data we collect through access agreements includes only this financial support. Institutions may offer other support as well: for example, merit-based scholarships open to all students, including those from more advantaged backgrounds.
Higher Education Information Database for Institutions. A web-based management information service, run by the Higher Education Statistics Agency, that provides quantitative data about equality and diversity in higher education.
Any income from fees above the basic fee threshold. For example, if an institution charges £9,000 in a year when the basic threshold is £6,000, the ‘higher fee income per student’ would be £3,000 (£9,000 – £6,000 = £3,000).
Outreach activities which target and work with the same students over a sustained period of time, over a number of years through different types of activities: for example, working with learners from primary school onwards through their secondary education.
The yearly goals a university or college has set within an access agreement target in order to track progress.
Before 2012-13, English universities and colleges that charged higher tuition fees were required to give a minimum level of bursary to students who normally live in England (‘England domiciled’) students who were eligible for full state support. Since the 2012-13 academic year there has no longer been a requirement to provide a minimum bursary to new entrants.
The national collaborative outreach programme (NCOP) is a programme which aims to support the most disadvantaged young people in England to progress into higher education. It will run from 2016-17 to 2019-20 and consists of 29 consortia undertaking outreach activity in geographical areas where higher education participation of young people is low.
NCOP allocations should not be included in access agreement expenditure.
The National Scholarship Programme (NSP) was a Government-backed financial support scheme for disadvantaged students who started higher education courses in the 2012-13, 2013-14 and 2014-15 academic years. Since 2015-16, the NSP is no longer in operation for undergraduate students.
The National Networks for Collaborative Outreach (NNCO) scheme, funded by the Government for academic years 2014-15 and 2015-16, aimed to encourage more young people into higher education. It brought together universities and further education colleges into local networks to provide coordinated access to schools and colleges. NNCO allocations to institutions and network hubs were not countable as access agreement expenditure.
Spending that may be included in an institution’s access agreement.
Students who started their studies in academic years 2006-07 through to 2011-12, and who are still studying in later years.
Activity by universities and colleges that helps to raise awareness, aspirations and attainment among people from disadvantaged backgrounds, e.g. summer schools that give a taste of university life, homework clubs for pupils who may not have anywhere to study at home, or universities forming and sustaining links with employers and communities.
When we refer to ‘part-time students’ we mean those studying at an intensity of at least 25 per cent of a full-time course, starting on or after 1 September 2012, excluding those studying on a course which leads to a qualification that is equivalent to or lower than one they already hold. This is because these students are covered by fee regulations.
Performance indicator, for example those published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency.
POLAR (Participation of Local Areas) is a classification of small areas across the UK according to the participation of young people in higher education (HE) for geographical areas ranging from regions to wards. There have been several iterations of POLAR, which are referred to as POLAR1, POLAR2, POLAR3 and POLAR4. More information on the HEFCE website
When we talk about ‘progression’ we mean students moving on from graduation to work or postgraduate study (the term is often used by others to refer to changing stages at other points in the student lifecycle).
Activity or investment to support undergraduate students from disadvantaged backgrounds as they prepare to progress to employment or postgraduate study. This might include measures such as internships or help with interview skills, or other activities which are designed to help disadvantaged students progress to employment or postgraduate study.
These are the personal characteristics upon which, under the Equality Act 2010, discrimination is unlawful. The characteristics are: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.
Publicly funded institutions
Broadly speaking, this means providers of higher education that are directly funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). In relation to the requirement to have an access agreement, we use a more detailed legal definition which is described in full in our access agreement guidance.
Tuition fees that are subject to Government-set limits. Information about which categories of students and courses are covered by regulated fees is set out in The Student Fees (Qualifying Courses and Persons) (England) Regulations (statutory instrument 2007 No. 778), as amended (in particular by statutory instrument 2008 No. 1640 for the ELQ policy). See also The Education (Student Support) Regulations 2011 (statutory instrument 2011 No. 1986), as amended (in particular by statutory instrument 2014 No. 2765).
RPI-X is a measure of inflation equivalent to the all items Retail Price Index (RPI) excluding mortgage interest payments. This is the index to which the Secretary of State must have regard when increasing the variable fee caps. Where universities and colleges with access agreements may be permitted to apply annual increases to fees, we suggest they calculate these increases by using the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast for RPI-X.
OFFA defines a scholarship as a cash 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. By comparison, we define a bursary as a cash award where the student’s eligibility is either wholly or partially dependent on their assessed household income.
However, some higher education providers and others use both the terms ‘bursary’ and ‘scholarship’ interchangeably, to mean any financial support offered to students.
This term refers to the stages of a person’s journey into, through and onwards from, higher education: that is to say, pre-application, application, undergraduate/postgraduate study, and then transitioning from study to work or other next steps.
In order to make meaningful comparisons between different access agreements, we look at institutions’ predicted spend for a notional future year called ‘steady state’. Institutions update their agreements annually, but steady state figures indicate what the institution might expect to spend if all student cohorts (i.e. first, second, third and fourth year students) were under the same fees and financial support package, assuming their predictions on income, spend and student numbers remain the same. Most undergraduate courses are three or four years long so, for example, for 2016-17 access agreements, steady state refers to 2019-20; for 2015-16 access agreements, it is 2018-19.
Please note that a steady state figure should not be interpreted as an actual prediction of what the institution will spend, or plans to spend, in that academic year: however, to get the best sense of how access agreements compare with one another, steady state figures should be compared rather than year-on-year figures.
Work to retain and support students from disadvantaged backgrounds during their studies, for example through induction programmes and study skills support.
Access agreements (and thus OFFA’s remit) cover full-time and part-time home/EU undergraduates (and some postgraduate courses for the initial training of teachers) that are charged higher fees. This population does not include students who are:
- studying at an intensity of less than 25 per cent full-time equivalent
- studying a course which leads to a qualification equivalent to or lower than one they already hold (ELQ students)
- in receipt of a non means-tested NHS bursary.
Please note there may be other exceptions not covered in this list.
New funding arrangements for Nursing, Midwifery and allied health students has replaced grants and bursaries with standard student loans and these students are therefore covered by access agreements.
An objective set by a higher education provider in its access agreement, which it will track over a five-year period. See also milestones.
Both these terms normally mean groups that are currently under-represented in higher education (at the national level, rather than at a particular institution or course). They include, but are not limited to:
- people from lower socio-economic groups or from neighbourhoods where higher education participation is low
- people from low income backgrounds (currently, we define ‘low income’ as up to £42,875 per year household income)
- some ethnic groups or sub-groups, including White males from economically disadvantaged backgrounds
- disabled people
- mature and part-time learners
- care leavers
- people estranged from their families
- people from gypsy and Traveller communities
- students with mental health problems, Specific Learning Difficulties and/or who are on the autism spectrum
- children from military families.
These are also often referred to by OFFA and others as ‘target groups’ because the students targeted in access agreements will be drawn from these groups. Different access agreements will focus on different target groups according to what they are aiming to achieve. They will also vary according to the year in which the access agreement was written because OFFA guidance on target groups varies from year to year – for details about a particular year, see the access agreement guidance for that year.
The full-time undergraduate tuition fees payable to a university or college. Variable fees were introduced by the Higher Education Act 2004.
An approach to widening participation and fair access that is embedded at all levels of an institution, not limited to a particular unit or department, engaging across all areas of its institutions’ work and inclusive of senior management.
Removing the barriers to higher education, including financial barriers, that students from lower income and other under-represented backgrounds face.
Widening participation strategic assessments (WPSAs) and widening participation strategic statements (WPSSs) were documents that the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) used to require from all the higher education institutions and further education colleges that it funded. They complemented the access agreements that institutions drew up with OFFA when they wanted to charge higher fees. More information about WPSAs and WPSSs can be found in the glossary on HEFCE’s website.