Questions and answers on drawing up your 2016-17 access agreement

This page answers questions that institutions have asked us about the 2016-17 access agreement guidance and process. Scroll down or use the links below to jump to individual questions. If you have queries that are not answered here, please contact your key OFFA contact. Where appropriate, we are happy to organise video/teleconference or face-to-face meetings to discuss any aspect of our guidance for 2016-17 access agreements.

How might access agreements be affected if there are changes to the funding landscape?

What are the maximum fee caps for 2016-17?

Is my institution allowed to increase fees for continuing students in 2016-17 to allow for inflation?

Why does the “Our target groups” section of the 2016-17 access agreement guidance not mention some under-represented groups (e.g. low-income students)? Are these groups still OFFA-countable?

What does “further and faster progress towards improving access” mean?

Am I expected to set stretching targets for areas in which my institution is already achieving significantly above benchmarks?

Since my institution will be looking to set new targets for 2016-17, is it also possible to set new targets for 2015-16?

Where can I find the access agreement resource plan template?

How should I report mainstreaming of retention and success?

Where in the resource plan should I account for OFFA-countable expenditure on supporting disabled students (i.e. support that goes beyond reasonable adjustments)?

Should I use POLAR2 or POLAR3 when setting new targets for my institution’s access agreement?

How should I include my institution’s collaborative work in the access agreement?

What can I do if I missed the 2016-17 access agreement conference?

The funding environment and fee levels

How might access agreements be affected if there are changes to the funding landscape?

We accept that when you develop access agreements you are working on the basis of some assumptions about higher education funding in future years. If there are changes to the funding landscape that significantly impact on access agreements, we will aim to give you the opportunity to revise your agreement.

What are the maximum fee caps for 2016-17?

The Government is yet to announce the student finance package for the 2016-17 academic year for students in England. Therefore, please develop your access agreement on the assumption that the present levels of funding will continue. As with other changes to the funding environment, if there are significant changes to fee arrangements, we will aim to give institutions the opportunity to revise their agreements.

Is my institution allowed to increase fees for continuing students in 2016-17 to allow for inflation?

Where you are currently charging below the maximum fee, OFFA will only allow fee increases (including increases in line with inflation) for continuing students in 2016-17 if your previous access agreement specifies that you intended to raise fees in this way. If you are raising fees in line with inflation, we suggest you calculate this increase by using the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast for RPI-X (the retail price index, excluding mortgage interest payments). The RPI-X forecast for 2016-17 is 3.19 per cent. 

 

We encourage you to consider carefully the wording in your 2016-17 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.

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Our approach to access agreements

Why does the “Our target groups” section of the 2016-17 access agreement guidance not mention some under-represented groups (e.g. low-income students)? Are these groups still OFFA-countable?

The target groups covered by access agreements remain unchanged. The 2016-17 access agreement guidance highlights six under-represented groups facing specific issues that we would encourage you to consider in your 2016-17 access agreement. However, you should also refer to more detailed guidance given in OFFA 2013/01, How to submit an access agreement for 2014-15, which encourages you to consider other under-represented and disadvantaged groups, which remain crucial to addressing local, regional and national challenges to access, student success and progression. More details on OFFA-countable groups.

What does “further and faster progress towards improving access” mean?

There has been welcome progress in the rates of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds entering higher education in the last ten years. However, despite these improvements, the gaps between participation rates of the most advantaged and most disadvantaged people remain unacceptably large and so there is still much more to do; and change needs to happen more quickly. Our strategic plan for 2015-2020 sets out the progress we want to see in the sector and you should think about how you can contribute to these goals. The progress that your institution will be aiming to make on different aspects of the student lifecycle should relate to where you are starting from, and should take into account your strategic priorities.

Am I expected to set stretching targets for areas in which my institution is already achieving significantly above benchmarks?

The targets you choose should be based on your assessment of where you need to improve on access student success and progression. Where you are already achieving well in a particular area, we encourage you to consider stretching targets that focus on areas of weaker performance that reflect your strategic priorities. Your access agreement should include at least one target related to entrants.

Since my institution will be looking to set new targets for 2016-17, is it also possible to set new targets for 2015-16?

When setting new targets in your 2016-17 access agreement, we would encourage you to consider including 2015-16 milestones, although 2015-16 milestones for new targets are not mandatory.

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2016-17 access agreement process

Where can I find the access agreement resource plan template?

Your 2016-17 access agreement resource plan template is available to download from the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s extranet. Extranet keys and details were sent to our contacts on Friday 6 March 2015.

How should I report mainstreaming of retention and success?

Where support or activity is normally available to all students, it may be appropriate to report a proportion of expenditure that reflects the percentage of OFFA-countable students/participants.

Should I use POLAR2 or POLAR3 when setting new targets for my institution’s access agreement?

Please use POLAR3 rather than POLAR2 when setting new targets around low participation neighbourhoods.

Where in the resource plan should I account for OFFA-countable expenditure on supporting disabled students (i.e. support that goes beyond reasonable adjustments)?

You should consider which category of expenditure (access, success, progression, or one of the financial support categories) best describes the funding provided. For example, additional equipment for a disabled student that might have previously been paid for under Disabled Students’ Allowance but which might now be considered beyond reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act should be counted in bursaries and scholarships in Table 5 of the resource plan.

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Collaboration

How should I include my institution’s collaborative work in the access agreement?

We welcome the continued emphasis on partnership and collaboration we have seen in previous access agreements. Collaborative working is vital to ensure continued progress in access, student success and progression, and where you have developed collaborative activity, we encourage you to include targets around this work. You may forecast some expenditure for the continuation of National Networks for Collaborative Outreach as OFFA-countable in your 2016-17 agreement.

Please also refer to our general guidance on collaborative work.

Conference

What can I do if I missed the 2016-17 access agreement conference?

The slides from the presentations and workshops from the conference “Developing your access 2016-17 access agreement” are available on our website.

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