OFFA calls for transformational change

The Office for Fair Access (OFFA) has highlighted the need for much greater progress on improving access to higher education for people from under-represented groups, in a briefing on the current biggest issues in fair access in England, published today. 

Writing in the briefing, Fair access to higher education in England: key facts and biggest issues, Professor Les Ebdon, Director of Fair Access to Higher Education, says:

“Although much has been achieved, our higher education system does not yet offer true equality of opportunity. There are still stark gaps between different groups.

“Further, faster change is imperative. Anything less will fail our students, our economy and our society.”

The briefing presents a high-level picture of the progress made in improving access for under-represented groups, and the challenges that remain to be addressed, pulling together data from a number of sources including OFFA-approved access agreements, UCAS, the Higher Education Funding Council for England and the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

Among the key points reported in the briefing are that, compared to a decade ago:

  • more young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are entering higher education than ever before
  • universities with the highest entry requirements have begun to diversify their student bodies
  • students from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to complete their courses
  • there is increasing understanding of the barriers to fair access and how to address them
  • fair access is a greater priority for the higher education sector and Government.

But it also highlights that the overall progress disguises a complex range of issues. There are still stark gaps between different groups of people, such as different socio-economic backgrounds, age groups and ethnicities, in terms of:

  • whether they enter higher education
  • which universities and colleges they go to
  • the likelihood of having to leave their course before completing it
  • the level of degree grade that they get
  • whether they go on to a rewarding job or postgraduate study.

Also today, in a related blog post on the higher education policy blog www.wonkhe.com, Professor Ebdon adds that this has implications for the Office for Students, which will take over regulation of access and participation in higher education from April next year.

He writes that, if it takes the right approach to its work, the Office for Students represents a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to drive the transformational change needed in access and participation.

And he warns that the next few months, as the new organisation’s leadership shapes its mission, values and operations, are a crucial time to make sure this happens, because:

“Even with the best of intentions, moving access regulation to a bigger organisation with multiple duties is always going to bring the risk of it being eclipsed by competing priorities. That must not happen, because if the Office for Students fails on access and participation, it fails students.”

ENDS

For further information contact Sophie Mason, OFFA Communications Manager, on 0117 931 7204 or email press@offa.org.uk.