Changes to the minimum bursary, inflationary increases and updating access agreements for 2010-11 (HEIs and FECs)

To: Heads of higher education institutions and further education colleges

Cc: Principal contact for OFFA / Managers responsible for access agreements

In brief…

Following the announcement of inflationary increases to fees for 2010-11, all institutions with access agreements must confirm their fee limits, bursaries and eligibility thresholds for 2010-11 with OFFA by 18 August 2009.

If you need to make a change to your access agreement from 2010-11, for example, in light of changes to the minimum bursary requirement, you must notify us and submit a revised access agreement by 18 August 2009. This is also the deadline for institutions that don’t currently have an access agreement and wish to submit one for the first time from 2010-11.1

The minimum bursary – for students receiving the full maintenance grant and being charged the maximum fee of £3,290 – will increase to £329.

Background information

Earlier this month, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills announced the student support arrangements for 2010-11. These confirmed that:

  • the maximum fee payable by students who entered higher education on or after 1st September 2006 and who are being charged variable fees, would increase to £3,290 in 2010-11
  • the maximum level of Higher Education Maintenance Grant would remain at £2,906, the same level as for 2009-10

Minister of State issues new guidance to OFFA

Following this announcement, the Minister of State for Higher Education and Intellectual Property, David Lammy, wrote a formal letter of guidance to Martin Harris, Director of Fair Access, ending the requirement for the minimum bursary to make up the difference between the maximum maintenance grant and the fee charged. Instead, the Minister asked the Director of Fair Access to devise a new appropriate and reasonable formula for a minimum bursary which was at least equal to the 2009-10 minimum bursary entitlement of £319.

Explaining his decision, the Minister pointed out that maintaining the original minimum bursary requirement would, following the decision to freeze the maintenance grant for 2010-11 at 2009-10 levels, place considerable additional bursary commitments on some institutions that are already very socially diverse and successful in widening participation.

These additional commitments would go beyond the intended commitments of their current, approved access agreements and would increase some institutions’ minimum bursary obligations above the ten per cent of additional fee income that the then Secretary of State Charles Clarke envisaged in his original letter of guidance to the Director of Fair Access in October 2004.

The new minimum bursary from 2010-11

Following the new guidance from the Minister of State, we have decided that from 2010-11, the minimum bursary will be ten per cent of the maximum tuition fee.

How we reached this decision

In considering an appropriate level for the minimum bursary, we took into account the need to safeguard student support, as well as institutions’ wider plans to widen participation and ensure fair access. Our aim was to ensure that the minimum bursary both protected students by keeping pace with inflation, and allowed institutions the flexibility to invest resources where they would be most effective in widening participation.

When approving access agreements our expectation has always been that the minimum bursary should rise in line with inflation. We therefore decided that we would maintain an inflationary increase in the minimum bursary alongside any inflationary increases to tuition fees. However, we decided we would also make a small additional adjustment. When the new student support arrangements were introduced in 2006, the minimum bursary for students in receipt of the full maintenance grant was set at £300, which was ten per cent of the maximum fee of £3,000. We therefore decided to re-establish this ten per cent level for future years, so ensuring that the value of the bursary was not eroded over time in comparison to the fee and providing assurance to students and institutions alike.

What this means for institutions

The minimum bursary requirement

For 2010-11, the minimum bursary requirement will be as follows:

  • the minimum bursary will increase by above inflation to £329 for students receiving the full maintenance grant and being charged the maximum fee of £3,2902
  • if you’re charging a fee of over £2,961 but less than £3,290, you must provide a minimum bursary for students receiving the full maintenance grant which makes up, pound for pound, the difference between £2,961 and the fee charged. For example, if you’re charging a fee of £3,190, your minimum bursary will be £229
  • if you’re charging a tuition fee of £2,961 or less, you do not need to provide a minimum bursary.

Further expectations for institutions offering the minimum bursary

Although we have set the minimum bursary at £329 for 2010-11, when finalising the bursary level for students receiving the full maintenance grant, you will want to give careful consideration to how best to ensure that students from less advantaged families are not deterred from applying to you on financial grounds.

We therefore expect you to seriously consider maintaining the link between the minimum bursary and the maximum state maintenance grant by offering a minimum bursary of £384, particularly for current continuing students. However, we recognise that, in some cases, you may judge that this proportion of your additional fee income would be more usefully spent on increasing other widening participation activity, or enhancing the experience of students.

Once you have finalised the level of your bursaries for students receiving the full maintenance grant in the light of this guidance, you may need to amend your access agreement for 2010-11 to ensure that the wording is consistent with the new arrangements and the decision you have reached.

In 2009-10, around 87 per cent of institutions charging the maximum fee will be offering in excess of the minimum bursary; students receiving the full maintenance grant at these institutions will not be affected by this change.

The implications for other bursaries

Over and above the minimum bursary, you are not required to increase your bursary amounts or eligibility thresholds unless your access agreement commits you to do so. However, you may wish to review these levels to ensure that the value of your financial support package is not eroded over time.

Inflationary increases to fees and state support thresholds

Key details of the Government announcement on fee levels and student support arrangements for 2010-11 are as follows:

Tuition fees;

  • the maximum tuition fee payable by students who entered higher education on or after 1st September 2006 and who are being charged variable fees, will increase from £3,225 to £3,290 in 2010-11. This increase represents a 2.04 per cent increase compared to 2009-10 and will be matched by a corresponding increase in the loan for fees that students can take out
  • the maximum fee payable by students who are not being charged variable fees (including students who entered higher education before 1st September 2006), will increase from £1,285 to £1,310

State support thresholds;

  • the maximum level of Higher Education Maintenance Grant/Special Support Grant will remain at 2009-10 levels, i.e. £2,906
  • income thresholds for eligibility for state grants for new entrants in 2009-10 and 2010-11 will remain at £25,000 for the full grant and £50,020 for a partial grant
  • income thresholds for eligibility for state grants for new entrants in 2008-09 will remain at £25,000 for the full-grant and £60,032 for a partial grant
  • income thresholds for eligibility for state grants for new entrants in 2006-07 or 2007-08 will remain at £18,360 for the full grant and £39,333 for a partial grant.

Full details are available on the Student Finance England website in a Student Support Information Note (SSIN).

What you need to do now

All institutions must confirm their fee limits, bursaries and eligibility thresholds for 2010-11 with OFFA by 18 August 2009. This deadline allows us to confirm approved fee limits of institutions and their partners with the Student Loans Company prior to the start of the application process.

You must also confirm any franchise partners that will be covered by your access agreement in 2010-11.

How to send us confirmation:

  • if you simply wish to confirm the level of your financial support for 2010-11 under terms set out in your existing access agreement (for example, your access agreement specifies that each year you will apply an inflationary increase to fees or bursaries), you should complete the fee and bursary update template and submit it to us to by 18 August 2009
  • if you wish to submit a new access agreement, or make changes to an existing access agreement – that is, changes that are not specified in your current access agreement – then you should complete the fee and bursary update template above and submit this to OFFA, as well as an updated access agreement3, by 18 August 2009. This will also apply if you are updating your access agreement to reflect the development of your widening participation strategic assessment, where applicable.

Please send your completed update templates and amended agreements to accessagreements@offa.org.uk.

Got a query?

If you have any queries about how to confirm your financial support for 2010-11 or submit a revised or new access agreement, please contact Chris Scrase or Richard Smith by emailing enquiries@offa.org.uk or phoning 0117 931 7171.

1 Institutions wishing to submit an access agreement for the first time should visit www.offa.org.uk/universities-and-colleges/writing-an-access-agreement/ for further guidance on developing an access agreement.

2 The increase from £319 in 2009-10 to £329 in 2010-11 represents an increase of 3.1 per cent.

3 The access agreement should include a financial return, which can be downloaded here.


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