The Office for Fair Access closed at the end of 31 March 2018 and responsibility for higher education access regulation transferred to the Office for Students

OFFA responds to UCAS January deadline data

Commenting on UCAS’ analysis of full-time undergraduate applications made by the 15 January deadline published today, Professor Les Ebdon, Director of Fair Access to Higher Education, said:

“These initial figures show that the rate of 18 year olds from the most disadvantaged areas applying to higher education is higher than ever before [note 1]. This is part of a sustained upwards trend over more than a decade. While there is still much to do to increase participation from people from disadvantaged backgrounds, this continuing progress is cause for real optimism.

“Universities and colleges recognise the pivotal role they have to play in improving access to higher education for people from disadvantaged backgrounds. The outreach work that they carry out to help raise aspirations – and the partnerships they have fostered with schools to help lift attainment – have made a profound and positive difference.

“However, I am concerned about the decline in applications from mature students [note 2], and the particularly significant reduction in people applying to nursing courses. We have previously seen a fall in applications when tuition fee and support changes have been implemented. While today’s figures are a significant cause for concern, in previous cycles – for example following the changes in 2012 – numbers have rapidly recovered. I will be closely watching how these application figures ultimately impact on the number of mature students entering higher education.

“It is important that universities and colleges do all they can to support mature students. Not everybody wants to, or is able to, enter higher education straight after school, and it is crucial that a university’s doors remain open for older students. Higher education is a life changing opportunity, and should be available to all with the talent to benefit from it, at whatever stage of their life they come to it.”


For further information contact Aislinn Keogh (Press and Communications Adviser) at OFFA on 0117 931 7171 or


  1. The application rate of young people from the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods (POLAR3 quintile 1) in England increased to 22.5 per cent, the highest level recorded (an increase from 22.0 per cent in 2016). The actual and proportional increase for this quintile is also higher than for all other quintiles, suggesting that the greatest progress has been made where it is most needed.
  2. It is more difficult to interpret trends for older students at the January deadline, as there are proportionally more applications received from these groups later in the cycle. However, research shows that mature students are more likely than younger students to be from an ethnic minority, hold non-traditional qualifications and have disabilities, among other measures of disadvantage, so they are a target group for OFFA.