Universities and colleges are spending more than 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 third monitoring report published today (Thursday 5 August), OFFA finds that English universities and colleges spent a total of £344 million on access measures in 2008-09 including £304 million on bursaries and scholarships for students from lower income and other under-represented groups. Over 346,000 such students received a bursary or scholarship in this period.
Nearly three-quarters (74 per cent) of bursary and scholarship expenditure was spent on the very poorest students, helping more than 230,000 students in receipt of a full state maintenance grant. On average, students in this group received a bursary of £980 a year.
OFFA also reports that bursary take-up among students from the lowest income group has again improved significantly – up from 92 per cent in 2007-08 to 96 per cent in 2008-09. Some 96 per cent of HEIs are now reporting a take-up rate of 90 per cent or more.
Commenting on the findings, Sir Martin Harris, Director of Fair Access, said: “This continued level of expenditure demonstrates universities and colleges’ strong ongoing commitment to widening access.
“In today’s changed climate, it is imperative that universities maintain their commitment and continue to spend appropriate proportions of their additional fee income on access measures.
“Clearly, with applications at a record high and restrictions on fully funded places, not everyone who applies to university will get a place. But we must continue to make sure that disadvantaged students get into the applications pool and are not disproportionately among those affected by this increased competition for places.”
Other key findings in OFFA’s report are that:
- universities and colleges spent £36.7 million on additional outreach and widening participation activities – up from just under £27 million in 2007-08
- more than three-quarters of universities and colleges charging the maximum fee spent between 15 to 30 per cent of their additional fee income on bursaries and scholarships
- 97 per cent of universities and colleges reported that they had either made progress towards or met their key statistical milestones relating to the number of applicants or entrants from under-represented groups
- to OFFA’s knowledge, all eligible students who applied for a bursary through the correct channels, have received one.
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Notes to editors
- The Office for Fair Access (OFFA) was established under the Higher Education Act 2004. Our role is to help safeguard and promote fair access to higher education by regulating the charging of higher fees. The main way we do this is by approving and monitoring access agreements.
- All publicly funded universities and colleges in England that wish to charge tuition fees above the basic level have to submit an access agreement to us for approval and complete an annual monitoring return. Access agreements show the fees that an institution intends to charge, its plans for bursaries and other financial support for lower income and other under-represented groups and, in some cases, additional outreach work.
- In 2008-09 the basic fee was £1,255 and the maximum higher fee £3,145. The minimum bursary (payable by all institutions charging the maximum fee to full-time undergraduates receiving the full maintenance grant) was £310.
- The threshold for full state maintenance grants for new entrants increased from £17,910 in 2007-08 to £25,000 in 2008-09.
- Our monitoring report only covers expenditure directed at our target groups – students from lower income and other under-represented groups. We know that HEIs spent at least a further £15 million on bursaries and scholarships for students who are not in OFFA countable groups. Similarly, many institutions 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 £49,305. This is £10,000 above the threshold for state support for continuing students in recognition of the fact that some institutions were concerned that students who just missed out on state support might be deterred from HE on financial grounds.
- The headline figures for bursaries and outreach expenditure relate to higher education institutions only as the figures for further education colleges and school-centred initial teacher training providers are very small and can distort the data.
- Widening Participation Strategic Assessments (WPSAs) bring together institutions’ widening participation and fair access commitments into a single document. Later this year OFFA and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) will issue joint guidance on both access agreement monitoring returns for 2009-10 and institutions’ first return against their WPSA.