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National strategy for access and student success in higher education – driving forward change

A national strategy developed by the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) to ensure that all those with the potential to benefit from higher education have equal opportunity to participate and succeed, has been published by the Government today [Thursday 3 April 2014].

Considerable progress has been made in recent years to widen access and ensure that students are successful in their studies and beyond. But there are still significant gaps [note 1] between the participation and success of people from different backgrounds, and in their progression to further study or employment.  Now is the time to deepen and broaden efforts to address these gaps.

The national strategy builds on effective practice and challenges Government, universities, colleges, and national bodies (including HEFCE and OFFA) to drive further change.

Under the strategy, commissioned and published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, HEFCE and OFFA will promote and support:

  • A student lifecycle approach:  to maximise the impact and effectiveness of widening participation activities, higher education providers and stakeholders such as schools and Government organisations need to make a difference across a student’s whole lifecycle [note 2]. For some universities and colleges, this will mean supporting successful outcomes more strongly alongside their other work. OFFA will encourage higher education providers to take such an approach in the agreements they draw up as a condition of charging higher fees.
  • Greater collaboration and partnership: we will facilitate and encourage greater collaboration and partnership between all stakeholders – not just higher education providers but schools, colleges, employers, national policy-makers, and third sector organisations.  We will develop an enhanced approach to support collaborative outreach to young and mature learners, helping to raise aspirations and attainment levels.
  • Evidence-based practice and evaluation: an improved national evidence base and more robust evaluation by universities and colleges will better enable them to focus their widening participation investment on activities that have the most impact. We will develop a national evaluation framework to help universities and colleges evaluate their own actions and goals more effectively and provide comparable data and evidence that can be used at a national level to inform policy and practice. We will also start a dialogue about co-ordinating and communicating research on questions relating to access and student success.
  • Information, advice and guidance: we will work with Government and other bodies to develop a joined-up approach to the provision of effective information, advice and guidance, both in schools and the further and higher education sectors. A high level cross-government policy response to this issue is vital.

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

“Higher education not only transforms the lives of individual students, it’s also a significant force for the nation’s greater good, helping to generate economic growth and contribute to social cohesion. That’s why it’s so important to ensure that everyone with the potential to benefit from higher education has equal chance to do so. The issues we seek to address through this strategy are long-standing, with complex causes, and they will not be easy to overcome. But with all stakeholders working together to implement the strategy effectively, it will create real and lasting benefits.”

Professor Madeleine Atkins, HEFCE Chief Executive , said:

“These are vital issues for the wellbeing of our economy and society, and of individuals within it. What we have sought to do in developing the national strategy is to help all partners build on their achievements to date, add fresh impetus to current work, and address the harder-to-tackle issues. We will support, facilitate and help to co-ordinate the contributions of all parties, ensuring that investment in widening participation delivers the best possible outcomes for students, the economy and society.”

Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said:

 “The Government is committed to ensuring that all those who have the ability and desire to go to university can.

“This strategy will be instrumental in helping universities to spend access funding where it really counts. One of its key focuses will be improving the employment prospects of graduates from less privileged backgrounds, who outperform at university but underperform in the job market.”   


For further information, contact Zita Adamson, OFFA Head of Communications  (0117 931 7272, or

Notes to editors    

  1. The strategy has been published at:
  2. The strategy addresses the following key issues:
    • Access – the wide gap in participation rates between people from different socio-economic backgrounds or with different characteristics (e.g. disability), particularly at universities with the highest entry requirements.
    • Retention and student success – low retention and attainment by some student groups compared to others: for example, the very different degree awards attained by students from different ethnic groups that cannot be explained by their entry profiles; the high non-continuation rates for part-time students; and the high non-continuation rates for full-time students at some universities and colleges.
    • Progression to or within employment or further study – the clear differences in whether, and how, different groups of people go on to postgraduate study or make progress towards their career goals.
  3. Engaging across the whole student lifecycle means supporting and encouraging people of all ages before entering higher education, throughout their study and as they progress to further study or to/within employment. It encompasses: raising aspirations and attainment through outreach work with schools, colleges, employers and communities; helping people make informed study choices (such as guidance on which GCSEs and A levels to choose, or advice on other pathways such as Access to Learning courses); minimising barriers to attending university or college (for example by providing financial aid, or designing flexible courses to meet the needs of people already in work); and supporting students when in higher education to achieve to their full potential and obtain, or improve, the skills that employers demand.
  4. 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 must draw up fair access plans with OFFA in order to charge higher fees. We then approve and monitor these activities, which 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 bursaries and scholarships. For more information see
  5. 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.


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