2014-15 access agreements: Universities get smarter in their approach to fair access

Universities and colleges are taking an increasingly strategic approach to improving access, using evidence and evaluation to tailor their approach so that they maximise their impact, the Office for Fair Access says today.

Access agreements [note 1] for 2014-15, published today, show that universities and colleges are:

  • making more use of evidence, evaluation and strategic thinking to inform their investment in improving access to, and success in, higher education
  • continuing to set themselves challenging access targets
  • increasing their sustained, targeted outreach activity (that is, reaching out to disadvantaged communities to raise aspirations and attainment, e.g. mentoring and masterclasses, or forming and sustaining links with schools, colleges and employers)
  • investing more in student success (that is, supporting people through their courses and on to employment or postgraduate study, e.g. peer mentoring and help with study skills).

The agreements are the first to be approved by Professor Les Ebdon, who took over as Director of Fair Access to Higher Education in September 2012. He says:

“I am pleased that universities and colleges have risen to the challenges I set them and are spending increasingly smartly. Many are continuing to evolve their patterns of investment, using evidence and evaluation to focus on what works to improve access to higher education and successful outcomes for students from under-represented backgrounds.

“Universities that have further to go to broaden their student intake are doing more to reach out to people in communities where few people go to higher education, thus raising their aspirations and attainment. Outreach work is key to addressing the unacceptably large participation gap that remains at the universities with the highest entry requirements, so I welcome the greater focus in this area.

“Meanwhile, universities and colleges that already have more representative student populations are putting greater resources into supporting students from disadvantaged backgrounds during their studies, so they are more likely to complete their courses, fulfil their potential and go on to their chosen career or postgraduate study. This is a key aspect of access. It includes, for example, programmes to help students settle in and feel part of university life, or mentoring by people already employed in the professions.

“Our work with the Higher Education Funding Council for England to develop a national strategy for access and student success will help improve the evidence base on access still further, and this will help universities take an even more tailored approach in future access agreements.”

Universities and colleges predict in their new agreements that, by 2017-18 [note 2], they will be spending £707.5 million a year on access (up from a predicted £671.8 million by 2016-17 under 2013-14 agreements). This comprises:

  • £124.5 million on outreach, which is 12.6 per cent more than under 2013-14 agreements
  • £118.6 million on student success, which is 16.7 per cent more than under 2013-14 agreements
  • £464.5 million on financial support (e.g. bursaries, fee waivers and “in-kind” support such as discounted accommodation), which is 1.1 per cent more than under 2013-14 agreements.

Professor Ebdon comments:

“The most important thing is that universities and colleges continue to make measurable, sustained progress on access and student success. But expenditure levels are an indicator of commitment so this increasing investment is a good sign. I am particularly pleased to see rises in outreach and student success, meaning the overall balance of investment is shifting and getting smarter, in line with my guidance to institutions.”

One hundred and sixty two universities and colleges submitted access agreements for 2014-15. OFFA’s negotiations and discussions with those whose agreements were not initially in an approvable form achieved £6.4 million extra spending at 20 institutions and higher targets at 26. Agreement has now been reached in all cases.

Access agreements are published in full on institutions’ own websites and at https://www.offa.org.uk/access-agreements/. We have published a summary and analysis of key data on expenditure and tuition fee levels from 2014-15 agreements, including a breakdown by individual institution, in OFFA publication 2013/04, 2014-15 access agreements: institutional expenditure and fee levels.

Ends

For further information, please contact:

Sophie Mason (OFFA Communications and Press Adviser) on 0117 931 7204

Zita Adamson (OFFA Communications Manager) on 0117 931 7272

or email press@offa.org.uk.

Notes to editors

1. 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 undergraduate higher education courses must have an access agreement approved by OFFA in order to charge higher fees.

An access agreement sets out: 

  • the fees the institution will charge
  • the access measures it will put in place (outreach; financial support; and activities to support student retention and success)
  • the targets that the institution sets itself, which are approved by OFFA. All targets must be stretching but this will mean different things for different institutions depending on their access and student success record. 

For more about OFFA and access agreements, please see our website, particularly the Quick Facts and FAQ in the Press section.

2. In order to make meaningful comparisons between different access agreements, we look at institutions’ predicted spend in “steady state”. Institutions update their agreements annually, but steady state figures indicate what the institution might expect to spend if all student cohorts (e.g. first, second, third and fourth year students) were under the same fees and financial support package, assuming their predictions on income, spend and student number controls remain the same. Most undergraduate courses are three or four years long, so for 2014-15 access agreements, steady state refers to 2017-18; for 2013-14 access agreements, it is 2016-17.


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