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Questions and answers on drawing up your 2013-14 access agreement

These Q&A are designed to help you draw up your access agreement for 2013-14. We will be updating them regularly. Please read them first before calling us with a query. You may also want to see our existing Q&A for institutions.

Fees and fee levels
Continuing students
Financial support
National Scholarship Programme

Good practice
Access agreements & WPSAs
Equality and diversity

Fees and fee levels

Q. How should I calculate my institution’s average fee in Annex B, table 3d?

A. In completing section 3d of Annex B of your access agreement, you must confirm whether your institution’s average fee, net of waivers, for 2013-14 commencing students will be £7,499 or below, between £7,500 and £8,250, or above £8,250. If your fee is above £8,250 but you franchise out places at an average net fee of below £7,500 you are asked to enter the number of full-time commencing places you expect to franchise at this fee level.

You can find details of how you should calculate your average fee on the HEFCE web-site.

Q. What are the fee caps for new system students who take year abroad placements?

A. On 3 May, the Government announced changes to the fee caps for new system students taking year abroad placements. You will need to ensure that your year abroad placement fees in your access agreement and Annex B reflect these changes.

The changes apply to students taking a year abroad under the Erasmus scheme and those taking a study (rather than work) year abroad under other international arrangements outside the Erasmus scheme from 2014-15. For these students, the maximum fee cap (at 2013-14 prices) will be £1,350 for those institutions with an access agreement and £900 for those without an access agreement.

This change does not affect new system students taking a study year abroad in 2012-13 or 2013-14. For these students, the higher and basic fee caps for study years abroad are £4,500 and £3,000 respectively, as set out in paragraph 9 of OFFA 2012/03, How to produce an access agreement for 2013-14.

BIS has published more detail on the background to these changes.  

Q. Why are you asking us to state an average fee, net of fee waivers, for full-time 2013-14 entrants for duration of their study in Table 3d?

A. BIS has asked the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) to free more student places from control, and make 5,000 places available through a ‘core and margin’ exercise. The Government has asked that HEFCE should continue to take fee thresholds into account in allocating these numbers, so we are asking institutions to estimate their fee thresholds for 2013-14 entrants for the duration of their study. HEFCE circular letter 12/2012, Student number controls for 2013-14: proposals for high grades and a core and margin exercise, outlines HEFCE’s proposals for this process. HEFCE has also issued guidance on how to calculate your average fee for this purpose

OFFA will not use the information in Table 3d to assess your access agreement.

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Continuing students

Q. Do we need to include fee limits for continuing students?

A. No, you do not need to include your fee levels for continuing students in your access agreement for 2013-14 entry, however we will ask for some details about continuing students in your Excel return (Annex B). We will ask you to confirm inflationary levels for continuing students later in the cycle. Your fees should be in line with what you advertised to students when they were accepted on their course.

Q. Are we allowed to increase fees for continuing students in 2013-14 to allow for inflation?

A. You will need to ensure that any inflationary increases you apply for continuing students are reasonable and reflect your existing commitments to those students.

Any inflationary rises to the caps for the basic and higher fees are set by the Government each year. This may include a decision (as for 2013-14) of not raising the caps.

Whether or not you may apply an inflationary increase to fees for continuing students within the caps will depend on:

We would encourage you to consider carefully the wording in your 2013-14 access agreement, and other published materials, to ensure that potential applicants are clear about what fees they would be paying for the duration of their course, before they apply.

We will continue to monitor the fees charged to continuing students over the coming months to ensure that institutional approaches are in line with their agreements.

Q. Are old-system students included in your guideline expectations on spend?

A. Yes. We will judge your access agreement on the commitments, expenditure and targets from 2012-13. In order to do this we will look at your predictions in steady state. We recognise that spend in transitional years (i.e. years with continuing old-system students) may be above or below our guidelines on what you should spend on access measures depending on your existing commitments. Please see paragraph 56 of ‘How to produce an access agreement for 2013-14’ (OFFA 2012/03).

Q. We are not planning on charging more than £6,000 for new entrants in 2012-13 or 2013-14. However our students who started in 2011 or before were charged more than the basic fee – what happens now?

A. You do not need a new access agreement to cover your 2012-13 or 2013-14 entrants. However, those students who started in 2011-12 or before will remain on the terms of your existing access agreement. You will still be required to provide annual monitoring reports until these students have left your institution.

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Financial support

Q. How should we record in Annex B where we are offering students a choice of financial support?

A. You should provide this information in Table 4a. Where you intend to offer students a choice of whether they wish to receive their institutional financial support in the form of a waiver, bursary or other in-kind award (or any combination of these), you should include this expenditure under ‘student choice’. You may also wish to provide a commentary on any assumptions you have made about the likely split between each of these using the box at the bottom of Table 4.

Depending on the choice of support offered, some of the ‘student choice’ may ultimately be allocated as fee waivers. Because this would affect the ‘average fee adjusted for fee waivers’ figure in Table 3c, you may also wish to provide an estimate of this average fee once these additional fee waivers have been taken into account.

When we announce our decisions on 2013-14 access agreements in July, we will make it clear that for institutions giving students a choice of how they wish to receive institutional financial support, the average fee after fee waivers will be lower than shown.

Q. We’re not planning to charge higher fees for part-time students but have access measures aimed at part-time students. Can we include this in the expenditure we report to you?

A. Yes, you can include expenditure on access measures for part-time students regardless of whether you charge higher fees for part-time courses.

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National Scholarship Programme

Q. Where can I see NSP allocations and guidance?

A. HEFCE has published provisional allocations plus full programme guidance for 2013-14.

Q. How will our required level of investment in NSP contributions change between years? What assumptions should we make for the purposes of access agreements?

A. The Government’s contribution is £100 million in 2013-14, increasing to £150 million in 2014-15. Institutions will be expected to match those contributions. There has been no confirmation of funding beyond 2014-15 but for the purposes of your access agreement, please assume that funding in 2015-16 and 2016-17 will be the same as 2014-15, i.e. £150 million.

The Government contribution will only be given to learners in year one of their course so the assumption (subject to the formative evaluation that is informing the project’s development) is that there will be greater numbers of scholarship awards in later years (and therefore greater levels of matched contributions required). However, the first year or two will be considered pilots and HEFCE and OFFA have been asked to review the scheme for 2014-15.

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Good practice

Q. We want to start using contextual data. Can you direct us to further sources of help?

A. Good practice on the use of contextual data can be found on the Supporting Professionalism in Admissions (SPA) website and SPA’s research report ‘Fair Admissions to Higher Education: The use of contextual data in admissions at a sample of universities and colleges in the UK’. SPA would also be happy to discuss contextual data with individual institutions.

Q. We want to target our outreach as effectively as possible. Can you direct us to any advice/best practice on this?

A. The HEFCE publication ‘Higher education outreach: targeting disadvantaged learners’ (HEFCE 2007/12) gives guidance on effective ways to target outreach activities at people from communities under-represented in HE. It also includes a three-stage methodology to make targeting more effective.

Action on Access’s Higher Education Progression Framework Guide (2008) sets out a model approach to prepare disadvantaged learners for higher education, engaging directly with schools in a sustained way. This approach provides a set of principles and characteristics to guide institutions in moving beyond one-off WP interventions to a sequence of experiences for learners within a sustained and planned programme “integrated with the activities of the wider learning community of schools and colleges”.

Q. What is OFFA’s view on institutions offering fee discounts, or increases in support, late in the application cycle?

A. Press coverage has highlighted the possibility that institutions may decide to discount their fees or increase their financial support late in the application cycle as a way of filling undersubscribed courses (for example during Clearing). Ultimately this is a decision for institutions. However, we expect you to consider the potential impact carefully.

In particular, bear in mind that discounting late in the application cycle is unfair to applicants who chose not to apply to your institution because of the fee and support package you advertised earlier. There is also a risk that late fee discounts may encourage applicants in future cycles to apply late in the hope of paying reduced fees. This would reduce their chances of being admitted to their preferred course, or even at all. We are concerned that such risks are more likely to be taken by applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Therefore in the interest of fairness, if you decide to offer a late fee discount or increase the financial support for a course, we would expect you to offer the same improved financial package to all eligible applicants, including those who have already accepted an offer from you, not just those who apply late.

Q. What is OFFA’s approach to flexible learning and two-year accelerated honours degrees?

A. We are keen to see institutions encourage wider access to their courses by responding to the different needs and circumstances of potential students. This includes offering flexible routes into higher education and innovative and responsive ways of studying – for example, two-year accelerated honours degrees.

The maximum fee cap beyond which no institution can charge in 2013-14 is £9,000 per year and this includes accelerated courses. However, when assessing your access agreement and your planned level of expenditure, we will take into account the reduced cost to students in taking two-year accelerated honours degrees and the potential of such degrees to attract students from under-represented groups.

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Access agreements & WPSAs

Q. How do access agreements relate to widening participation strategic assessments (WPSAs)?

A. Access agreements and WPSAs are complementary documents. There is already a joint monitoring return for access agreements and WPSAs and we will continue to work closely with HEFCE to bring the two documents together to maximise their coherence and minimise your administration.

The WPSAs developed in 2009 set out your overall widening participation aims and objectives alongside a strategic assessment of what you hope to achieve over the next three years. For 2012, HEFCE is changing WPSAs to interim widening participation strategic statements, to better align them with changing circumstances, to understand how institutions are responding to the changing higher education environment, and to evidence how HEFCE’s investment in widening participation is being secured for the public and student interest.

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Equality and diversity

Q. Why do I need to demonstrate that I have met my obligations under the Equality Act in my access agreement?

A. Although OFFA does not regulate whether institutions meet their legal obligations under the Equality Act 2010, the public sector equality duty requires you to take equality considerations into account when designing policies (including internal policies) and services, and to review such issues regularly.

Therefore when designing your 2013-14 access agreement you will need to demonstrate how you have taken equality issues into account.

Our guidance on equality and diversity gives more information on including equality and diversity in your access agreement, including where to get legal advice.

If you need further help, you may wish to contact an external organisation such as the Equality Challenge Unit which is funded by the higher education sector’s representative bodies and UK funding bodies to advise universities and colleges on equality issues. You can count any expenditure invested in such services under your access agreement.

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