The Office for Fair Access closed at the end of 31 March 2018 and responsibility for higher education access regulation transferred to the Office for Students


The freedom for higher education providers to control their own admissions processes is an important part of academic autonomy. The law puts admissions criteria outside OFFA’s remit and it is right that it should do so.

We do not advocate any specific admissions process, but encourage institutions to adopt an approach that is well supported by evidence.

Contextual information

As Ministers have recognised in guidance to the Director of Fair Access to Higher Education, one way for institutions to make progress on fair access is to take into account contextual information in their admissions process. This information might include, for example, average attainment in an applicant’s school, or other indicators of disadvantage.

We agree that the use of contextual information is a valid and appropriate way for you to broaden access while maintaining excellence. We welcome and encourage the use of contextual information so long as you consider individuals on their merits and your procedures are fair, transparent and evidence-based. If you choose to use it in relation to improving access, and/or supporting success and progression, you may include the extra costs in your access agreement (for example, monitoring and evaluation costs) – for more details see ‘OFFA-countable’ access agreement expenditure.

Many institutions already use contextual information to help identify individuals with potential from under-represented groups. Some use this information to make some applicants slightly lower offers than they would normally. Some also use it to better inform their targeting and access activities.

However, it is entirely up to you to choose whether or not you refer to contextual information in any aspect of your institution’s business.

Supporting Professionalism in Admissions

Supporting Professionalism in Admissions (SPA) is the UK’s only programme with the specific remit and expertise to provide an independent and objective voice on UK higher education admissions.

Established in 2006, SPA promotes professionalism, fair admissions and access to higher education by developing and leading on evidence-based good practice in the recruitment and selection of students. It develops evidence-based good practice resources, and provides hands-on support to admissions professionals to help them develop their policies, processes and strategies with the applicant in mind.

As part of its future work, SPA seeks to bring together insight from national equality, widening access and special interest groups to provide informed briefings and good practice advice for admissions professionals. This will encompass contextualised admissions, tackling bias and integrating admissions with widening participation and student experience efforts. SPA plans to make admissions fairer for all, but specific attention will be focused on raising support for care leavers, carers, estranged students and any disadvantaged by a protected characteristic.

Where you choose to engage with SPA’s work, any expenditure incurred which is related to widening participation and fair access may be counted in your access agreement. This is likely to include one-third of the subscription cost; for more details see ‘OFFA-countable’ access agreement expenditure.

Related guidance

Guide to ‘OFFA-countable’ expenditure

The Supporting Professionalism in Admissions (SPA) website includes a variety of useful resources on admissions including good practice guidance on using contextual information and a lot of research about the use of contextual informationSPA is also happy to discuss contextual information with individual institutions, including further education colleges.