English universities and colleges have continued to reach out to and support people from disadvantaged backgrounds who have the potential to benefit from higher education, a report published today (Thursday 6 June) by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) finds.
The report details performance against OFFA-monitored access agreements for 2011-12, as well the widening participation efforts of universities and colleges, which are monitored through HEFCE’s widening participation strategic assessments (WPSAs). For the first time, the report also provides 2012-13 in-year monitoring for the National Scholarship Programme.
In 2011-12 universities and colleges continued to commit significant resources to financial support for students, aspiration raising and inspiring outreach projects, and measures to support students throughout their courses and beyond.
On spend, institutions appear to be rebalancing the sources of funding for widening participation:
- Access agreements show that expenditure from institutions’ higher fee income on bursaries and additional outreach activity increased from £424.2 million in 2010-11 to £444.1 million in 2011-12.
- At the same time, expenditure reported through institutions’ WPSAs, which is drawn from all other sources of funding (including HEFCE’s funding for teaching, widening access and improving retention), shows a reduction in expenditure from £645 million in 2010-11 to £624 million in 2011-12.
On support student progression and success, WPSA monitoring shows that institutions have increased investment by over £10 million between 2010-11 and 2011-12.
On outreach, institutions are investing more under their access agreements – OFFA’s monitoring shows a 26 per cent increase from £45.7 million to £57.6 million. However, WPSAs show that the overall spend on outreach activity, taking together expenditure from higher fee income and all other income, has dropped by almost £17 million. This reduction in outreach spend can partly be explained by universities reshaping their partnership working following the end of the £80 million Aimhigher programme [see note 5]. Universities and colleges responded to the changing national picture and that is why, in line with OFFA’s guidance, outreach spend under access agreements has increased. Access agreements already approved by OFFA for future years show this trend will continue, with universities predicting that they will spend £110.6 million on outreach measures under their access agreements by 2016-17.
Commenting on the report, Professor Les Ebdon, Director of Fair Access to Higher Education, said:
“Universities and colleges continue to invest substantially in access and widening participation measures, and that is to be welcomed. This retrospective report measures the last year of the old system of fees and student support. Under the new system, we are already seeing a step change in spend, with a growing focus on activities that encourage people to aspire to go to university and, just as importantly, help them achieve the grades they need to apply. Summer schools, mentoring, master classes and other outreach activities can all be transforming experiences, opening a student’s eyes to the life-changing opportunities that higher education offers.
“We have asked for an even greater focus on outreach in the very latest access agreements to come before us for approval – the agreements for 2014-15 that we’re currently assessing. We also want future access agreements to show an increasingly strategic approach, with institutions basing their investment decisions on a better understanding of what works best to improve access at their particular institution.
“The challenge of effective evaluation in a fast-changing environment should not be under-estimated. But institutions must get smarter in their investment if we are to make more progress in closing the unacceptably large gap in participation in higher education that remains between advantaged and disadvantaged people.”
Sir Alan Langlands, Chief Executive of HEFCE, added:
“Universities and colleges have continued to encourage participation in higher education in 2011-12 by adding to the funding provided by HEFCE and the expenditure committed through their access agreements. They have also responded well to the National Scholarship Programme and, by delivering on their financial commitments, are supporting over 34,000 students with NSP awards.
“We will be interested to see how the changing patterns of investment signalled in this report develop in future years, given the shift to the new fee system. Attracting students from disadvantaged backgrounds to take part in higher education is a vital aspect of widening participation. These students also tend to progress, succeed and contribute greatly to the economy.
HEFCE will continue to support effective practice in outreach, student progression and access to further study or graduate level employment. By building the evidence base, we will help support institutions to continuously improve their provision.”
For further information about HEFCE’s monitoring of widening participation strategic assessments for 2011-12 and National Scholarship Programme in 2012-13, please contact HEFCE Deputy Head of Communications Philip Walker on 0117 931 7363 or Communications Manager Helen Albon on 0117 931 7076. For further information about OFFA’s access agreement monitoring for 2011-12, contact OFFA Communications Manager Zita Adamson on 0117 931 7272 or Sean Beynon, OFFA Press and Communications Adviser on 0117 931 7022 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Notes to editors
- The full report, Access agreement and widening participation strategic assessment 2011-12 and National Scholarship Programme 2012-13 (in-year) monitoring outcomes is available at www.hefce.ac.uk/pubs and www.offa.org.uk/publications.
- For 2011-12, higher education institutions could charge a maximum fee of £3,375, as long as they had an access agreement approved by OFFA.
- Other findings from OFFA’s monitoring of the 185 institutions with access agreements in 2011-12 are that:
- the majority of universities and colleges met or exceeded the access targets they set themselves in 2011-12 – institutions’ self-assessments of the progress they made against their 2011-12 targets can be found at www.offa.org.uk/institutions-self-assessments-and-commentaries
- universities and colleges continued to make progress in targeting financial support at students most in need [note 9]. They spent £386.5 million on bursaries and scholarships for students from lower income and other under-represented groups, up from £378.1 million in 2010-11. The vast majority of this money (82 per cent) was spent on students from the lowest income group – those in receipt of a full grant
- in total, 455,000 students from lower income backgrounds and other under-represented groups received a bursary or scholarship compared to 432,000 in 2010-11. More than three-quarters of students receiving a bursary or scholarship (76.2 per cent) were from the lowest income group (up from 74.1 per cent in 2010-11)
- Other findings of HEFCE’s monitoring of the 209 institutions that submitted WPSAs are that:
- Public funding of £368 million allocated by HEFCE was reinforced by a further £256 million from institutional teaching funding sources other than higher fee income.
- In 2011-12 institutions promoted the success of their students by committing a high proportion (47 per cent) of their investment in widening participation to support retention and progression through HE. This finding relates particularly to post-1992 institutions and is in line with our expectations that institutions which are most successful in widening access will focus their efforts on supporting students from diverse backgrounds to achieve successful outcomes.
- Support for disabled students has increased significantly, showing a 23 per cent increase from £40.5m in 2010-11 to nearly £50 million in 2011-12.
- Access agreements only cover ‘additional’ outreach activities started after the introduction of variable fees in 2006 – so if institutions ended programmes connected with Aimhigher that were launched before 2006, this would have reduced their outreach spend under WPSAs but not under access agreements.
- All of the access agreements referred to in the report were approved by the previous Director of Fair Access, Sir Martin Harris. Professor Les Ebdon succeeded Sir Martin in September 2012.
- 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. The main way OFFA does this is by approving and monitoring ‘access agreements’. All English universities and colleges offering both full-time and part-time undergraduate higher education courses must have an access agreement with OFFA in order to charge higher fees.
- The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) promotes and funds high-quality, cost-effective teaching and research to meet the diverse needs of students, the economy and society. Our responsibilities are to distribute funds, safeguard quality and assure the stewardship of public money. We work closely with universities, colleges and other partners to develop policies, achieve excellence and impact in education and research, and to provide opportunities for all those who have the ability to benefit from higher education. For the academic year 2013-14, HEFCE will allocate £4.47 billion to 129 universities and higher education colleges and 203 further education colleges. www.hefce.ac.uk .
- Access agreements set out the fees an institution wishes to charge and the access measures an institution has put in place to sustain or improve access, retention and student success of students from lower-income backgrounds and other under-represented groups. OFFA defines ‘lower income’ students as those with an assessed household income below £50,020 and ‘lowest income’ students as those eligible for full state support. For students starting their studies in 2011-12, this means those with an assessed household income of less than £25,000.
- Widening participation strategic assessments set out institutions’ overall widening participation aims and objectives alongside a strategic assessment of what they hope to achieve over a three-year period. All higher education institutions and further education colleges that are directly funded by HEFCE will be required to provide a new WP statement covering three years from 2014-15. For more details see part two of this report.
- The National Scholarship Programme (NSP) is designed to benefit individual students from disadvantaged backgrounds as they enter higher education. In 2012-13 the Government provided £50 million towards the programme rising to £100 million in 2013-14 and £150 million in 2014-15. Institutions are expected to match the award on a 1:1 basis. HEFCE administers the programme on behalf of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.