A new report published today by the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) reveals that universities and colleges have made good progress in widening access to higher education for disadvantaged young people, but that progress is lagging on improving access for mature students.
The report, Outcomes of access agreement monitoring for 2015-16, sets out OFFA’s analysis of institutions’ performance against the commitments and targets set out in their 2015-16 access agreements, and their investment in widening participation activity and financial support.
Writing in the foreword of the report, Professor Les Ebdon, Director of Fair Access to Higher Education, said:
“I have stepped up my expectations on universities and colleges in recent years, and they are rising to the challenge. I am pleased to report that progress has been made against over 80 per cent of the stretching new targets that institutions have set themselves.
“Meanwhile, their investment through access agreements in 2015-16 outstripped their predictions, and was better balanced across the whole student lifecycle – from preparing students for higher education to preparing them for life after graduation.”
“Nonetheless, our analysis reveals that there is no sign of improvement in access for mature and part-time learners, which continues to be a grave concern.
“While fair access for young people is a national success story, little or no progress has been made against a substantial proportion of targets for mature and part-time students. This is unacceptable.
“For many people from disadvantaged groups, a lack of flexible options can present an insurmountable barrier – particularly mature students, who often have to balance study with work and family commitments.
“Yet when mature students do get the right support to enter and complete their courses, they typically achieve good results and go on to good jobs. So it is a terrible waste of talent that people with such potential are dropping out of their courses at more than twice the rate of their younger counterparts.”
The report shows that universities and colleges invested £725.2 million through their access agreements in 2015-16. This comprised:
- £277.7 million on activities to support fair access, consisting of:
- £119.5 million on activities to help raise aspirations and attainment, including long-term outreach work to support people from disadvantaged backgrounds to enter higher education
- £117.1 million on activities to support disadvantaged students through their studies, including tailored induction and buddying programmes to help them settle into university
- £41.1 million on progression activities – including interview preparation and mentoring from professionals – to prepare students from disadvantaged backgrounds for employment or postgraduate study.
- £447.5 million on financial support, including:
- £428.8 million on bursaries, fee waivers and “in-kind” support such as accommodation discounts
- £18.7 million on hardship funds, to support students in the greatest need.
For further information contact Aislinn Keogh (Press and Communications Adviser) at OFFA on 0117 931 7173 or firstname.lastname@example.org
NOTES TO EDITORS
- All data on institutions’ investment, progress against targets and milestones and performance against HESA key performance indicators for 2015-16 has been collated into a user-friendly tool which can be downloaded here.
- OFFA will soon publish research into the impact of outreach for disadvantaged mature learners, and effective evaluation of that work. Click here for more information on this project.