The Office for Fair Access closed at the end of 31 March 2018 and responsibility for higher education access regulation transferred to the Office for Students

Access agreement decisions for 2016-17: universities set themselves stretching new targets

Universities and colleges have set themselves challenging new targets to make further and faster progress on fair access to higher education. The new targets, agreed with the Office for Fair Access (OFFA), form part of the 183 access agreements approved today, and will help meet a Government ambition to double the rate of students from disadvantaged backgrounds entering higher education [note 1].

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

“The access agreements I have approved today show that universities and colleges are setting stretching and ambitious targets to attract students from disadvantaged areas and then support them through their studies. Our work with universities and colleges has really borne fruit over the last decade [note 2]. There are now greater rates of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in higher education than ever before – but we know that talent is still being lost. Too many people who have the talent to excel are not given full opportunity to demonstrate their ability. Eroding the stubborn link between your background as a child and your life chances as an adult is a long-term project. But I am confident that this set of agreements can – and will – make a real and lasting difference for many years to come.

“I am enormously heartened to see the significant level of ambition in this set of access agreements. By making progress towards their own fair access challenges, universities and colleges will contribute to the Government’s national fair access goals. The Prime Minister and Minister for Universities have set a goal to double the rates of students from disadvantaged backgrounds by 2020, and these agreements send a clear message that universities are ready to do the hard work to make this target a reality.

“The work and ambition universities and colleges have committed to today will transform lives. The outreach work universities have planned will open the door to higher education for people who might otherwise have thought it was not for them. The people that universities work with now will go on to be the doctors, business leaders and engineers of the future.”

Each university and college with an access agreement sets their own targets depending on their own individual circumstances. These targets are then subject to OFFA’s approval. Among the targets universities and colleges have set for their 2016-17 access agreements are:

  • all institutions have set a target on the make-up of their student body
  • around three quarters of institutions set a target to improve the rates of students continuing with their studies, while around 15 per cent set a specific target to help ensure that their students were well prepared for life after graduation.

Many targets also focus on particular groups of disadvantaged students. For example:

  • over a fifth of institutions set targets designed to help care leavers access higher education and succeed in their studies
  • approximately forty per cent of institutions set targets around specific ethnic groups. This includes a range of targets to reduce attainment gaps between different groups of students
  • around a third of institutions set targets relating to disabled students.

In total, universities and colleges predict that they will invest £750.8 million in steady state [note 3] through their 2016-17 access agreements. This consists of:

  • £149.3 million on access activities. This includes long-term sustained outreach work, which identifies learners at an early stage, and helps to raise aspirations and attainment
  • £148.0 million on work to support students through their studies – for example through tailored induction programmes for particular groups of students
  • £54.6 million on progression activities, to ensure that students are well prepared for life after graduation
  • £399.0 million on financial support, including bursaries, fee waivers and hardship funds.

Professor Ebdon continued:

“Our discussions and negotiations with universities and colleges have led to improved targets at 94 institutions. These new targets are evidence-led, strategic and deliverable, and I look forward to working with universities and colleges to make further, faster progress.”


For further information contact

Zita Adamson (OFFA Communications Manager) on 0117 931 7272 or Sean Beynon (OFFA Press and Communications Adviser) on 0117 931 7022, or email

Notes for editors

  1. The Government has set an ambition to double the rates of young people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds entering higher education by 2020 (compared to 2009).
  2. Since 2006 there has been a 61 per cent increase in the participation rate of 18 year-olds from the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods entering higher education.
  3. In order to make meaningful comparisons between different access agreements, we look at institutions’ predicted spend in “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 2016-17 access agreements, steady state refers to 2019-20.
  4. Access agreements for 2016-17: key statistics and analysis, is published on Thursday 16 July at
  5. 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.

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