2017-18 access agreements: tough negotiation yields increased commitment

The Office for Fair Access (OFFA) has today published 198 access agreements for 2017-18. The access agreements were approved following negotiation between OFFA and universities and colleges, and are the most ambitious yet.

Universities and colleges have pledged to increase both the work and the investment that they put in to improve fair access to higher education for under-represented groups.

This includes predicted future investment of £833.5 million under 2017-18 access agreements which is an increase of over 10 per cent in cash terms compared to 2016-17 access agreements.

Much of this extra investment comes from the increased income that some universities will receive from charging fees of up to £9,250 per year. During the negotiation and approval process, OFFA’s expectation was that investment should remain proportionally the same where fees rose.

Professor Les Ebdon, Director of Fair Access to Higher Education, comments:

“The Government has set ambitious aims for fair access to higher education so I am very pleased to see universities and colleges rising to the challenge. These agreements will direct increasing effort and resource into improving access for disadvantaged students. Those increases are very much needed.

“There are already more young people from disadvantaged backgrounds entering higher education than ever before, which shows the impact that previous access agreements have had. But there is still a long way to go and the Government has clearly indicated that fair access is a priority, so we must all keep pushing forwards.

“I am pleased that we have been able to achieve agreement in all cases again this year. This is always what we aim for. But in many cases, it took tough negotiation to get to a point where I could approve the agreements. More than half of the access agreements originally submitted to us needed changes before I could approve them.

“OFFA’s robust negotiations ensured improved targets at 94 institutions, increased investment at 37 and refocused investment at 24 institutions. As a result, life-changing opportunities will be opened up to many more people from all backgrounds, up and down the country.”

The £833.5 million planned investment through access agreements includes:

  • £171.1 million on pre-entry activities to raise attainment and aspirations (2016-17: £149.5 million) – for example, outreach work in communities, homework clubs, summer schools
  • £185.7 million on supporting students from disadvantaged backgrounds to succeed to their full ability (2016-17: £148.4 million) – e.g. pastoral support and study skills training
  • £68.0 million on helping to prepare students from disadvantaged backgrounds for employment or postgraduate study (2016-17: £54.7 million) – e.g. mentoring or help with the costs of internships
  • £408.7 million on financial support (2016-17: £399 million) – for example bursaries, fee waivers and or accommodation discounts.

Professor Ebdon continues:

“Fair access is not just about getting in, it is also about getting on. As well as breaking down barriers so that talented people from disadvantaged backgrounds can get into higher education, all students need appropriate support so that they are able to achieve to their highest potential and go on to a good job or further study. Anything else is a waste of talent and a disservice to hard working, fee paying students.

“So I am pleased that under this set of access agreements, universities and colleges have committed to increase their efforts to close the gaps in retention and attainment between students from different backgrounds, and to ensure that disadvantaged students are well supported throughout their studies and as they prepare for life after graduation.” 

For further details and key statistics see 2017-18 access agreements: institutional expenditure and fee levels; you can also download the data tables in Excel format: data tables for 2017-18 access agreements.

ENDS

For further information contact Sean Beynon (Head of Communications) or Sophie Mason (Communications Manager) on 0117 931 7171, or email press@offa.org.uk

Notes to editors

  1. 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 for people from under-represented groups. All English universities and colleges that wish to charge higher fees must make plans to promote and sustain fair access, including outreach (e.g. summer schools, mentoring, after-school tuition, links with schools and colleges in disadvantaged areas), activities to improve retention and success, and financial support such as bursaries and scholarships. The plans are called ‘access agreements’ and must be agreed with OFFA, which then monitors their implementation and can apply sanctions where agreements are not honoured.
  2. Universities and colleges predict ‘steady state’ expenditure of £833.5 million in under their 2017-18 access agreements. This is 10.3 per cent more in cash terms than under 2016-17 agreements (£755.6 million). 
  3. The £833.5 million steady state investment under 2017-18 access agreements corresponds to 24.6 per cent of the universities’ and colleges’ income from charging fees above the basic level (2016-17: 24.7 per cent).
  4. A total of 111 agreements were not approvable in the form in which they were originally submitted.