Providing information to students
Publishing your access agreement
You are required under the Higher Education Act 2004 to publish your access agreement. As access agreements apply to students for the duration of their studies, you should maintain a published archive of all access agreements, not just your most recent one.
Publishing information on fees and financial support
You are required to publish (not just in your access agreement) clear and accessible information for applicants and continuing students on the fees that you intend to charge and any financial support that you will offer.
Following an investigation in 2016 of the information published on institutions’ websites, OFFA found that many institutions are not complying with the requirements to publish information for prospective students.
Later in 2017, OFFA will undertake a repeat investigation of institutions’ websites. Those institutions found not to be complying with requirements around the provision of information will be contacted. If compliance has not improved across the sector OFFA may publish the names of institutions that were not compliant.
Your access agreement must include a commitment to provide accurate and timely information to prospective students on the fees they will pay and the financial support that will be available to them.
When to publish
Fee and financial support information should be published in time to inform potential students during the decision making process (i.e. as soon as access agreements are approved).
We expect you to update bursary and other student finance information on your website as soon as possible.
What to include
You must publish the fees that you intend to charge and any financial support that you will offer.
You must clearly state what academic year the fee you are advertising applies to.
If you offer part-time courses or courses for international students, these must also be clearly advertised and distinguished from full-time and home/EU student fees.
As set out in advice to higher education providers on consumer protection law from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), it is important that prospective students are given accurate information about the total cost of tuition fees for the duration of their course. This should include the level of tuition fees for the first year, how fees may change for future years and how any such changes will be calculated. This should allow prospective students to foresee possible changes to the level of tuition fees and how they could affect them.
For example, if you will or may increase students’ fees annually with inflation you must include a clear, accessible statement regarding this. This statement should link the potential increases to an objective verifiable index, such as the Retail Prices Index for inflationary rises, so that students are able to understand how their fees are expected to change.
If you do not intend to increase fees with inflation it is good practice to include a statement confirming this. This will provide clarity for students that no information has been omitted by the institution and allow for easy comparison between courses.
This information should make clear the eligibility criteria and level of financial support you are offering students in each year of their studies.
You should make sure it is clear to prospective students how they can apply for the financial support that you offer. This is important even if you automatically assess students for their bursary eligibility using information provided on their student loan application form. You should make it clear if you rely on students agreeing to share their financial information with you.
Your wider obligations in provision of information to students
In 2015 the Competition Markets Authority published ‘Advice for Higher Education Providers’ and a quick guide, which you should reference. You must ensure that you are providing prospective students with all material information necessary for them to make an informed decision about higher education. This goes beyond the course fees and financial support and includes information about additional course costs and the content and structure of the courses you teach. You must also ensure that you are providing this information to students at the correct times (application, offer and enrolment), and ensure that the terms and conditions between you and the student are fair.
Consumer Protection Regulations also require that your commercial practices take account of the types of students you are targeting, and vulnerable groups, and include information that might be relevant to those people’s decisions. For example, course timetables are likely to be particularly relevant to part-time students, and the accessibility of your facilities may be important to students with disabilities (such as wheelchair users).
You should also have regard to the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education’s UK Quality Code for Higher Education concerning information about higher education provision (Part C, Indicator 2).
Good practice in publishing this information
It’s important that the student finance information on your website is clear and up to date so students can find out about bursaries and other financial support quickly and easily. We strongly encourage you to test the clarity of your information regularly with prospective and current students, including your student union.
You may find our useful information for potential students helpful – many of the websites we list provide resources that you may like to embed in your own site, such as student finance calculators and videos.
You might want to look at our best practice guide Improving Information: HEIs’ provision of online financial information and research from digital marketing agency Net Natives, What, when and where are students searching?, which used digital behavioural research to investigate students’ use of online financial information, with advice from OFFA.
In March 2017 HEFCE produced a good practice guide on publishing information for prospective undergraduate students which institutions may also find useful to refer to.
Continuing students should be able to access clear, up to date information about the fees that they will pay, and the financial support that is available to them for each year of their studies. This information could be available via your website or an internal intranet. If you choose to provide this information via your website ensure that it is clear what information relates to prospective students and continuing students.
Broader information, advice and guidance
It is also important to provide information, advice and guidance (IAG) to under-represented students at all stages of the student life-cycle. Therefore you may include in your access agreement targeted expenditure on additional IAG support, not just in respect of access and student success, but also through to progression beyond higher education; for example, to enable greater social mobility into professions where this is low.
The Student Loans Company’s team of regionally based Funding Information Partners Account Managers provides support to practitioners in institutions aiming to promote effective IAG in a number of ways, including:
- bespoke face-to-face training and support for student services teams in various institutional departments either in their own working environment or through key partner training events. The training can cover the Student Loans Company’s core business functions of Assess, Pay and Repay and all aspects of the student journey, from the application process to the impact of students transferring, intercalating or withdrawing from their course. This would be of particular use to student services and finance and welfare departments. The Student Loans Company’s team of regionally based student finance advisers also offer more generalised training which provides a broad overview of the student finance process for staff in admissions, marketing and recruitment departments
- regular tailored training for staff from recruitment and outreach teams and for student ambassadors, to enhance institutions’ programmes of pre-entry outreach activity. The Student Loans Company’s team of regionally based student finance advisers are able to attend applicant visit days and host student finance workshops
- a referral service to help resolve individual cases.
For more information about these services, please visit the Student Finance England practitioner website.