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More evidence needed on fair access and retention, says OFFA

Expanding the evidence base around fair access and retention is one of the key challenges faced by the Office for Fair Access (OFFA).

The need for greater analysis and research is one of the key themes of OFFA’s Annual Report and Accounts 2011-12, published today. OFFA says an improved evidence base, both at an institutional and sector level, will help it develop a better understanding of what works best in improving fair access and retention and also help improve the way it understands and measures institutional progress.

In his foreword to the report, Sir Martin Harris, Director of Fair Access to Higher Education, says OFFA’s increased resources mean it is better placed to tackle this challenge than in the past.

“However, we remain a small team and this is a deeply complex area. We therefore look forward to working more closely with institutions as well as sector bodies and others in rising to this challenge. Institutions’ own evaluation and monitoring will be hugely important alongside any central analysis we and others will be able to do.”

A key task for OFFA will be to analyse the impact of institutional financial support under the new fee and support arrangements that come into force in September and to further analyse the sector’s access performance by institutional selectivity, says the report. This, and future analysis and good practice, will form part of a coherent strategy on access and student success with the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). OFFA also intends to develop its partnerships with analysts in other organisations to explore the evidence base around access and retention.

Sir Martin says that under the new fee and support arrangements OFFA is challenging institutions to increase the effectiveness of their expenditure on access measures – institutions predict that from the academic year 2015-16 they will be spending £614.1 million on access measures, 27.8 per cent of the income they receive from charging tuition fees above the new basic level of £6,000.

“We are asking institutions to set themselves challenging targets, based on what they can reasonably achieve.

“It’s important that institutions understand how best to deploy their limited resources in order to make good progress towards their targets. Evaluating the impact of their access plans and strategy is key to achieving this.”

Sir Martin, who retires from OFFA later this year, concludes his foreword by welcoming his successor Professor Les Ebdon, who takes over as Director on 1 September.

“I am confident that all institutions will find that he takes a fair and considered approach to the hugely complex but immensely worthwhile challenge of what OFFA is about – namely, helping to ensure that individuals with potential from all backgrounds have the opportunity to enjoy the life-changing experience of higher education.”


Notes to editors

  1.  Read The Office for Fair Access Annual Report and Accounts 2011-12.
  2.  This annual report and accounts covers OFFA’s sixth year of operation. The report has been presented to Parliament and was published by The Stationery Office on 27 June 2012. Please note this is not our annual monitoring outcomes report. Our next monitoring outcomes report, giving the results of our monitoring of 2010-11 access agreements, will be published on Wednesday 4 July 2012.
  3. 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 we do this is by approving and monitoring ‘access agreements’. All English universities and colleges offering undergraduate higher education courses must have an access agreement with us in order to charge higher fees. Access agreements set out the fees an institution wishes to charge and the measures they will put in place to sustain or improve access and student retention. Access measures include outreach (e.g. summer schools, mentoring, after-school tuition, links with schools and colleges in disadvantaged areas and activities to improve retention and success) and financial support such as fee waivers, bursaries and scholarships.
  4. For more about OFFA, please see our website, particularly the Quick Facts and FAQ in the Press section.

For further information, contact Zita Adamson, Communications Manager at OFFA, on 0117 931 7272 or Sophie Mason, Communications and Press Officer on 0117 931 7204.

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