Universities and colleges continued to make good progress in promoting access to higher education for students from disadvantaged backgrounds in 2014-15. A report from the Office for Fair Access, Outcomes of access agreements monitoring for 2014-15, which is published today [Thursday 12 May], shows that universities and colleges are making positive progress towards nearly 90 per cent of the targets they set themselves, which must be approved by the Director of Fair Access to Higher Education.
Commenting on the report, Professor Les Ebdon, Director of Fair Access to Higher Education, said:
“More young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are in higher education than ever before, and 2014-15 saw further excellent progress. This is testament to the hard work universities and colleges do to reach out and inspire talented people from disadvantaged backgrounds. We can see that institutions are making headway towards more ambitious targets, and that they’ve invested a significant proportion of their own higher fee income towards fair access activities.
“OFFA’s role in this progress has been crucial. We expected universities and colleges to increase their ambition following the introduction of £9,000 fees, and to focus their efforts on the activities and programmes that work best to improve fair access. Our increased ambition has helped ensure that significant strides forward were made despite many predicting access would suffer under the new system of fees.
“Now is the time to press for further progress. Too many people are still held back by their backgrounds, despite having the ability to excel in higher education. I will continue to challenge universities and colleges to set and meet more stretching targets. Figures from UCAS show that meeting the Prime Minister’s goal to double the rate of disadvantaged students from 2009 to 2020 will require a significant acceleration in progress. My latest access agreement guidance to institutions makes clear that I expect them to redouble their efforts to ensure people from disadvantaged backgrounds aren’t left behind.
“While universities and colleges should celebrate their efforts to date, this report shows starkly that there is still much work to be done. We can see that institutions made less progress on the targets they set themselves in respect of part-time students compared to targets relating to full-time students. In order to strengthen the economy and ensure that higher education truly is open to everyone with the talent to benefit, urgent action must be taken to reverse the long-term decline in part-time and mature students.”
The report shows that universities and colleges invested £725.4 million through their access agreements in 2014-15. This comprised:
- £232 million on activities to support fair access, consisting of:
- £105.2 million on activities to help raise aspirations and attainment, including long-term outreach work to support people from disadvantaged backgrounds to enter higher education
- £97.0 million on activities to support disadvantaged students through their studies, including tailored induction and buddying programmes to help them settle into university
- £29.8 million on progression activities – including interview preparation and mentoring from professionals – to prepare students from disadvantaged backgrounds for employment or postgraduate study.
- £493.4 million on financial support, including:
- £478.2 million on bursaries, fee waivers and “in-kind” support such as accommodation discounts
- £15.2 million on hardship funds, to support students in the greatest need.
Professor Ebdon added:
“I am also pleased that – in 2014-15 – universities and colleges continued to take a whole student lifecycle approach to their work. This recognises that simply enrolling in higher education counts for nothing if disadvantaged students are not supported to get the most from their studies. Recent research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that students from disadvantaged backgrounds are likely to earn less than their more advantaged peers, even when they’ve been on the same course at the same university. I am confident that the work universities and colleges are doing to help students settle into university, support students through their studies and ensure that disadvantaged students are well prepared for employment or postgraduate study will help shrink this gap.”
Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson said:
“Everyone with the talent and potential should have the opportunity to attend one of our world class universities, irrespective of background or gender. While we are seeing record application rates from disadvantaged backgrounds, too many are still missing out.
“That is why our recent university access guidance for the first time called for specific support for white boys from the poorest homes, and it’s why we will press ahead with our important reforms to higher education – including plans to require universities to publish admissions data, so that we can shine a spotlight on where action must be taken.”