English universities and colleges continue to spend a quarter of their additional fee income on attracting and supporting lower income and other under-represented students, according to the latest annual monitoring report from the Office for Fair Access (OFFA).
In its fourth monitoring report, the first joint report with the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), OFFA finds that English universities and colleges spent a total of £395 million on access measures in 2009-10. This includes £356 million (22.6 per cent of their higher fee income) on bursaries and scholarships for students from lower income and other under-represented groups. Over 402,000 such students received a bursary or scholarship in this period.
Three-quarters (75 per cent) of bursary and scholarship expenditure was spent on students from the very poorest backgrounds, helping more than 271,000 students in receipt of a full state maintenance grant. On average, students in this group received a bursary of £935 a year.
Other key findings in the report published today (Thursday 29 September) are that:
- there is now very near full take-up of bursaries and scholarships
- higher fee income in 2009-10 rose to £1,574 million
- universities and colleges spent £38 million (2.4 per cent of their higher fee income) on additional outreach and widening participation activities, up from £37 million in 2008-09
- 77 per cent of institutions reported that they had either exceeded or met all or most of their statistical targets relating to the number of applicants or entrants from under-represented groups
- 23 per cent of institutions5 reported that they had not yet met their targets – though some positive progress was being made.
Commenting on the findings, Sir Martin Harris, Director of Fair Access to Higher Education, said: “Our monitoring shows that expenditure on access measures remains steady, demonstrating universities’ continued commitment to seeking to ensure that all those with the potential and aspiration to go to university are able to do so, regardless of their background.
“The large majority of universities and colleges are also meeting their statistical targets. Where they are not doing so, I am concerned to understand the reasons why. Over the coming months, we will therefore be discussing performance with a range of institutions, including those that have reported the least progress.
“It’s important to be aware that this is a retrospective report showing what happened in 2009-10 and should not be used to tell us what may happen as we move towards the significantly changed fees and funding regime from 2012-13. New access agreements are in place for 2012-13 and these show stretching targets and considerable increases in expenditure on both outreach and financial support as well as, for the first time, expenditure and commitments on improving retention and student success.
“We are very aware of concern about the potential impact on widening participation of both higher fees and the possible changes to the shape of the sector resulting from the White Paper in terms of changes to student number controls. We do not know how students, or institutions, will respond to the new arrangements.
“We have complete confidence that institutions will wish to redouble their efforts to protect and improve access. An important part of our role will be to understand, at both institutional and sector level, any early evidence of impact on student behaviour or recruitment patterns, in order that we might respond as quickly as possible to any emerging priorities and issues, as well as identifying good practice.
“In the meantime, as applicants for 2012-13 make their decisions on whether and where to study, it’s critical that they understand how the new funding regime works – particularly that they won’t have to pay back any loans until they’re earning more than £21,000 and that universities and colleges are offering more financial support than ever before. This includes the new national scholarships aimed at those most in need. We will therefore be doing all we can to support the work of the Independent Taskforce on Student Finance Information as well as other sector bodies. The message needs to be heard loud and clear that higher education is still open to all, regardless of your family background.”
Sir Alan Langlands, Chief Executive of HEFCE, said: ‘Universities and colleges remain committed to widening participation and in 2009-10 spent significantly more on this crucial activity than the amounts we allocated specifically for this purpose. The range of activities carried out by higher education institutions is varied reflecting their varied missions and circumstances.
‘We will build on the successes of widening participation and fair access and will continue to work in partnership with OFFA to ensure that all prospective students of higher education have the opportunity to benefit from the huge benefits it brings. We need to ensure that as the new higher education landscape develops, widening participation remains high on the agenda.’
Notes to editors
- 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. The main way we do this is by approving and monitoring ‘access agreements’. All English universities and colleges offering full-time (and in future, part-time, subject to Parliamentary approval) undergraduate higher education courses must have an access agreement with us in order to charge higher fees. Access agreements set out the access measures (e.g. outreach or financial support) that universities and colleges will put in place.
- For more about OFFA, please see our website www.offa.org.uk, particularly the Quick Facts and FAQ in the Press section.
- In June 2009 the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) received widening participation strategic assessments (WPSAs) from all institutions which it funds with more than 100 (directly funded) FTEs. WPSAs set out the position of widening participation (WP) in institutions’ missions and their strategic aims and objectives for WP. WPSAs demonstrated the considerable commitment across the sector to WP, which has been further evidenced in the first annual monitoring returns against the WPSAs for 2009-10, which this report covers. In 2009-10, institutions continued to commit financial resources to widening participation well above the amounts which HEFCE specifically delivered for this purpose, and in addition to the resources committed through access agreements. They also carried out a range of WP activity, from activities to promote access to higher education to activities to promote student retention and success, and have been developing their ability to evaluate their WP activities and approaches.
- In 2009-10 the basic fee was £1,285 and the maximum higher fee £3,225. The minimum bursary (payable by all institutions charging the maximum fee to full-time undergraduates receiving the full maintenance grant) was £319.
- The threshold for full state maintenance grants for new entrants in 2009-10 remained at £25,000 but the threshold for partial support decreased from £60,005 to £50,020.
- Our monitoring report only covers bursary and scholarship expenditure directed at our target groups – students from lower income and other under-represented groups. We know that some HEIs provide financial support for students who are not in OFFA countable groups. Similarly, we only count expenditure on outreach that is additional to that which HEIs already invested prior to the establishment of access agreements in 2006 and we know HEIs invested in outreach work that fell outside their access agreements.
- As stated in our report, we define ‘lower income’ as students with assessed household incomes below £50,020, the upper threshold for partial state support in 2009-10.
- All figures relate to expenditure by higher education institutions only unless otherwise indicated. This is because the figures for further education colleges are very small and can distort the data.
- For further information, contact Zita Adamson, Communications Manager at OFFA, on 0117 931 7272 or 0117 931 7171.
 Higher education institutions (HEIs) only. See ‘Notes’.
 The report also gives the results of HEFCE’s monitoring of institutions’ returns against their widening participation strategic assessments (WPSAs).
 Student Loans Company data shows that in 2009-10 97 per cent of students applying for financial support consented to share their assessed income with their university or college, thereby enabling the payment of bursaries and scholarships. (This figure rises to 98 per cent in 2010-11.)
 The fee income generated by charging fees above the ‘basic fee’ of £1,285.
 Both HEIs and Further Education Colleges (FECs)