OFFA monitoring shows universities step up to access challenge and make good progress

Universities and colleges responded well to the challenge of improving access to higher education in 2012-13, the first year of £9,000 tuition fees, the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) says today.

OFFA’s annual monitoring of access agreements, published in a joint report with the Higher Education Funding Council for England [note 1] shows that in 2012-13 universities and colleges:

  • substantially increased their activity to widen access to higher education for low-income and other disadvantaged groups, increasing investment by 27 per cent [note 2]
  • met, exceeded or showed progress towards 83 per cent of their high-level outcomes targets related to entrants, applicants and non-continuation [note 3].

This progress was in response to the higher expectations that OFFA placed on universities and colleges in its 2012-13 access agreement guidance.

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

“Our monitoring as the access regulator shows that universities and colleges responded well to the tougher challenge that OFFA set them in 2012-13. We asked them to strengthen their access commitments and they did so, increasing investment and setting stretching outcomes targets which they have met or – in the case of longer-term goals – made progress towards, in the vast majority of cases.

“This is our first year of monitoring under the new system and of course it will take time for us to understand the full impact of institutions’ increased access activity. However, we do already know that, to date, fees of up to £9,000 have not deterred young people from low-income backgrounds from going to higher education. We know from Higher Education Statistics Agency data that participation rates rose among young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in 2012-13 and UCAS application data suggests this trend has continued in 2013-14. There is even starting to be improvement in the acceptance rates of the most disadvantaged group to highly selective universities. On the downside, numbers of part-time students continued to fall in 2012-13 and remain worryingly low.” [note 4]

OFFA’s monitoring also shows that under 2012-13 access agreements:

  • the average bursary given to first-year students from the lowest income backgrounds was £353 higher than the year before (£1,268 compared to £915)
  • institutions spent £74.7 million on outreach work to raise aspirations and attainment levels among people from disadvantaged backgrounds, and £72.5 million on supporting such students to stay on their course, reach their potential and progress to further study or graduate-level employment

This was the first year that “student success and progression” expenditure was included in access agreements.

Professor Ebdon said:

“Our 2012-13 monitoring reveals that institutions are increasingly taking a ‘lifecycle’ approach to their access work, not only diversifying their intake but also supporting under-represented students during their studies and on to successful outcomes.

“I wholeheartedly welcome this rounded, whole lifecycle approach. Fair access is only meaningful if students from disadvantaged backgrounds are adequately supported not just to enter higher education but also to complete their studies and progress to a graduate-level job or postgraduate study.”

Examples of universities and colleges that exceeded their targets

(For further details on any of these, please contact the institution directly.)

University of Surrey

Target: To increase the proportion of entrants from NS-SEC classes 4-7 to 26.4 per cent by 2017-18.

Progress: In 2012-13, the university had already exceeded its target and reported a proportion of entrants from NS-SEC classes 4-7 of 28 per cent.

De Montfort University

Target: To increase the percentage of full-time first degree finalists from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds achieving first or 2:1 degree, to 53 per cent by 2017-18.

Progress: In 2012-13 monitoring the university reported a rate of 57.7 per cent in 2011-12 finals.

Conservatoire for Dance and Drama

Target: To increase entrants from low-participation postcodes to 11 per cent by 2017-18.

Progress: In 2012-13, 13 per cent of the Conservatoire’s students were from this group.

ENDS

For further information on OFFA’s monitoring outcomes, contact

Zita Adamson (OFFA Communications Manager) on 0117 931 7272 or Sophie Mason (OFFA Communications and Press Adviser) on 0117 931 7204, or email press@offa.org.uk

Notes to editors

  1. Full details of the outcomes from 2012-13 access agreement monitoring are available in the joint OFFA/Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) publication, Outcomes of access agreement, widening participation strategic statements, and National Scholarship Programme monitoring for 2012-13, available on our Publications page. This publication reports on activity under OFFA-approved access agreements and also expenditure on widening participation using Government funds distributed by HEFCE and expenditure under the National Scholarship Programme.
  2. Overall investment in access agreement activities rose by £120 million (from £444 million to £564 million) compared to 2011-12, when the maximum fee that could be charged was £3,375. Universities and colleges also invested further sums from HEFCE widening participation funds and through the National Scholarship Programme, which are also discussed in the monitoring outcomes report.
  3. Universities and colleges set their own targets which must be approved by OFFA. OFFA does not set targets. We have also published institutions’ self-assessments of their progress against each of their targets and a commentary by individual institutions on their progress.
  4. Sources: Higher Education Statistics Agency widening participation performance indicators; UCAS, Undergraduate 2013 end of cycle report; and HEFCE, Pressure from all sides: Economic and policy influences on part-time higher education.
  5. OFFA is currently assessing the access agreements submitted by universities and colleges that want to charge higher fees in the 2015-16 academic year. Its decisions will be announced later this month.


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