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Access agreement monitoring tells a national success story, says OFFA

English universities and colleges have made good progress in improving access to higher education for people from disadvantaged backgrounds, the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) reports today.

OFFA’s annual monitoring of access agreements for the latest full academic year [note 1] shows that:

  • universities and colleges have met, or are on course to meet in the planned time, 90 per cent of the targets that they set themselves in their 2013-14 access agreements [note 2]
  • one in three targets has been met three years ahead of deadline
  • 87 per cent of targets relating to disabled students, 87 per cent of targets related to gender and 79 per cent of targets related to ethnicity have been met, or are on course to be achieved in the planned time.

Writing in the foreword to the report, Professor Les Ebdon, Director of Fair Access to Higher Education, says:

“The great thing about these numbers is that they aren’t just numbers. They tell a story of hope, opportunity and social mobility, a national success story of which the whole of English higher education should be proud.

“The lines on our graphs represent a growing number of real people whose lives are being transformed and opportunities broadened by the work done through access agreements. That enriches universities, our economy, and society more widely, as well as those individuals themselves.

“For example, excellent progress is being made against targets on access for care leavers, a group who face very significant barriers to higher education but who include a wealth of untapped talent that could be harnessed to benefit all of us.”

OFFA’s monitoring also shows that universities and colleges are making progress in supporting students to prepare to progress to employment or further study after graduation. They have met, or are on course to meet on time, eight out of ten targets relating to retention and employability.

Professor Ebdon says:

“This progress is something to celebrate, but it’s not enough – not yet. Although there are record-breaking rates of entry among disadvantaged groups, too many of these entrants are still getting lost by the wayside. Some will never graduate and those who do are more likely to underachieve than students who are the same in every respect apart from different backgrounds, gender or ethnicity.

“These inequalities in attainment and progression are the hidden face of fair access and they are unacceptable.

“In the coming year I plan to give renewed challenge to universities and colleges to build on their success and really get to grips with these differential outcomes. The impact that access agreements have had on entry rates for disadvantaged groups shows that they are a powerful lever for change and I want them to drive even more progress across the whole student lifecycle.”

Examples of universities’ work on access, success and progression

Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) has a target to recruit 10 per cent of “home” students from BME backgrounds. It has exceeded this target, achieving 11 per cent recruitment of “home” students from BME backgrounds in 2013-14, through a combination of targeted engagement with local BME communities and specific bursaries for BME students. For more information see page 15 of the report.

Coventry University found through monitoring that progression rates were lower among disabled students and that non-completion rates were higher among some disability groups than others. In response, the Disabilities Team has put in place several new interventions, including Friendly Faces (a blend of social and subject-specific weekly sessions for disabled students) and drop-in study skills sessions. For more information see page 16 of the report.

The University of Nottingham has extended its induction support for mature students and developed a new mentoring scheme for mature students. Both measures aim to help address lower continuation rates for mature students, which the university identified through its monitoring using internal data and data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency. For more information see page 16 of the report.

The University of Essex has used data analysis to evaluate the impact of its bursaries on behaviour among different groups of students. For more information see page 14 of the report.


For further information on OFFA’s monitoring outcomes, contact

Zita Adamson (OFFA Communications Manager) on 0117 931 7272 or Sophie Mason (OFFA Communications and Press Adviser) on 0117 931 7204, or email

Notes to editors

  1. Full details of the outcomes from 2013-14 access agreement monitoring are available in OFFA publication 2015/04, Outcomes of access agreement monitoring for 2013-14.
  2. Universities and colleges set their own targets which must be approved by OFFA. OFFA does not set targets. Institutions’ self-assessments of their progress against each of their targets and commentaries by individual institutions on their progress are available at
  3. For more detail about differential outcomes for disadvantaged students see chapters 2 and 3 of the national strategy for access and student success.
  4. OFFA is currently assessing the access agreements submitted by universities and colleges that want to charge higher fees in the 2016-17 academic year. We will announce our decisions in July.

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