The Office for Fair Access announced today (Tuesday, 12 July 2011) that English universities and colleges charging above £6,000 for their courses plan to boost their spending on access measures to £602 million a year by 2015-16 .
After negotiation, OFFA has approved 2012-13 Access Agreements for 139 institutions – 123 higher education institutions and 16 further education colleges. Under the agreements universities and colleges plan to increase investment in access measures to £602 million a year by 2015-16, up from £407 million in 2011-12. This figure rises to £738 million a year when the Government’s contribution to the National Scholarship Programme (NSP)  is included.
Access measures cover a broad range of activities including outreach activities to raise aspirations and attainment, financial support such as fee waivers, bursaries and scholarships, and measures to improve retention.
Announcing OFFA’s decisions, Sir Graeme Davies, Director of Fair Access, said:
“Our assessment of the Access Agreements submitted to us has been a thoroughly rigorous and robust process. In some cases we were unhappy with the first draft we received but institutions responded positively and after a period of scrutiny and negotiation 139 Access Agreements now meet our conditions.
“These Agreements represent a considerable commitment by universities and colleges to improving access for students who are under-represented in higher education and where appropriate, improving retention and student success.
“I am particularly pleased by the planned additional annual investment of £50 million in outreach activities to raise aspirations and attainment among potential applicants from under-represented groups.
“We consider that long-term, targeted outreach is key to widening participation and fair access and in our guidance we asked institutions to increase their efforts in this area. Outreach includes activities such as summer schools, working closely with schools to raise pupils’ aspirations and attainment, mentoring, and advice and guidance for pupils.
“Looking ahead, we will want to monitor the impact of the new arrangements very carefully. From 2012-13, Access Agreements will have to be approved on an annual basis and this will be important in allowing us to respond quickly to any changes in student behaviour.
“For now, however, it is absolutely essential that the sector works together and pulls out all the stops to communicate the financial support available so that no one is put off applying to university for financial reasons.”
Some of the Agreements submitted did not initially meet OFFA’s requirements on the level of investment needed. In some cases, the targets set by universities were not considered sufficiently stretching. OFFA subsequently negotiated with 52 institutions – 25 on both targets and spend, 22 on targets only and five on spend only. These negotiations resulted in significant improvements in targets and an additional investment of £21 million in access measures.
Analysis of institutions’ investment in access measures shows that by 2015-16 universities and colleges will be spending £602 million representing 27% of their fee income above the basic level of £6,000. This consists of:
- £414 million on financial support of which £69 million is in fee waivers
- £106 million a year on additional outreach
- £82 million a year on activities to improve student retention and success
Institutions will provide a further £136 million in financial support to students through the Government’s contribution to the National Scholarship Programme (NSP).
Tuition fee levels
Analysis of tuition fee levels shows that:
- the estimated sector fee average is £8,393
- this reduces to £8,161when fee waivers are included
- when all financial support from universities and colleges including NSP is taken into account, the estimated average fee cost to students is £7,793
- only seven per cent of HEIs will charge an average fee of £9,000 (i.e. their fee will not be reduced by fee waivers)
- significantly fewer than half of students in universities and colleges are expected to be charged a net fee of £9,000, once fee waivers and other support is taken into account.
Full tables are available on our publications page. For further information, contact OFFA Communications Manager Zita Adamson on 0117 931 7272/7171.
 By 2015-16 most students will be under the new fee arrangements (the majority of undergraduate courses are for three or four years). This is therefore the first year when meaningful comparisons can be made with the current system.
 Access Agreements for two institutions – London Studio Centre and Warwickshire College – are still under discussion. We expect to issue decisions on these shortly.
 Subject to Government Comprehensive Spending Review.
 This figure is less than the full Government NSP funding of £150 million as some NSP funding will be allocated to colleges charging fees of £6,000 or below and some institutions have allocated funding to part-time students (which are not yet covered by Access Agreements) and have chosen not to include the expenditure in their agreements.
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.
- 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 approved by OFFA in order to charge fees above £6,000 from 2012-13. Institutions with low proportions of under-represented students and those charging higher fees up to the maximum of £9,000 are expected to spend the most on attracting and supporting students from lower-income families and to set themselves the most stretching targets.
- Access Agreements set out the access measures that universities and colleges will put in place. In 2012-13, these measures include: additional expenditure on outreach activities (e.g. summer schools, mentoring, after-school tuition and links with schools and colleges in disadvantaged areas); financial support for students including fee waivers, bursaries, scholarships, and support under the National Scholarship Programme; and additional expenditure on activities to support student retention and success.
- Access Agreements also set out the targets that institutions set themselves to make progress in achieving a socially representative intake. All targets must be stretching but this will mean different things for different institutions depending on their access record.
- National Scholarships which are included in access agreements consist of fee waivers, bursaries and scholarships, discounts on student services (e.g accommodation) and free foundation years.
- Expenditure on bursaries and scholarships is only the amount spent on lower income students or other under-represented groups. Lower income is defined as any student with an assessed household income of up to £42,600. This is the Government threshold for state support for entrants in 2012-13.
- For the academic year 2011-12 all HEIs and 66 FECs submitted Access Agreements.