What happens after you submit your access agreement
How we will consider your access agreement
Once we receive your access agreement we will consider it against the requirements set out in the guidance we have published on our website.
Our aim is to be as transparent as possible when assessing access agreements. If we believe there may be a conflict of interest in assessing a particular access agreement, we will, if necessary, seek a second opinion from our independent Advisory Group or an independent senior figure before finalising our decision.
If any of the information we require is unclear or missing, we may have to clarify matters with you or ask for more information before we can reach a decision. In such circumstances, we will raise our concerns with you and give you the opportunity to make amendments or provide further evidence as to why we should approve your agreement, for example where we judge the proposed targets to be insufficiently ambitious or where we have issues with levels of expenditure.
All such conversations will take place at draft agreement stage, during May, June and July. You will need to have the appropriate staff available during this period with sufficient levels of authority (or delegated authority) to make decisions about targets, levels of expenditure, and other aspects of the agreement.
Formal decisions will be made only once all negotiations have been completed.
Communicating the Director’s decision on your access agreement
If you submit your agreement to us by the deadline specified in our annual strategic guidance, with all the required information and there is no need for negotiation or discussion, we will guarantee a decision no later than the date specified in our annual guidance (in previous years this has usually been the end of July but please refer to the latest annual guidance for full details). In the interests of getting early information to potential applicants before the end of the school and college summer term, we try to release decisions as early as possible.
We will release all decisions at the same time, other than those where we are still in negotiation or where required information is missing or remains unclear.
You may submit an access agreement outside of the normal process, but please note that submitting later than the deadline specified in our annual guidance may also result in a late decision.
You are required under the 2004 Higher Education Act to publish your access agreement. We also publish all approved agreements on our website, allowing interested parties to search for and view all access agreements in one place.
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.
What to do if your access agreement is not approved
If we reject your access agreement, you then have 21 working days from the date of our decision to apply for a review by a person appointed by the Secretary of State. You can request a review if you:
- are presenting a material factor for consideration which for good reason you did not include in your access agreement or in your representations to us
- believe we have disregarded a material factor which we should have considered
- think that our provisional decision is disproportionate in view of all the relevant facts.
The review body can either uphold our decision or ask us to reconsider it. We will consider the opinion of the review body and give you a final decision within 10 working days from the time we receive the review body’s opinion.
Access agreements are approved annually and we would not normally expect you to make in-year changes once the application cycle is under way.
There are exceptional circumstances in which it may be possible to make some changes to an approved agreement, for example where you need to clarify your access agreement or where you have spotted an error. Where changes are approved it is the institution’s responsibility to ensure compliance with CMA guidance.
We also recognise that some uncertainties may remain at the time when we require you to take decisions on your fee levels and access agreement commitments. Where there are significant changes to your circumstances after the submission of your agreement and you wish to change any of your commitments as a result, any changes that reduce your commitments will require our approval. However, you must honour any financial commitments you have made to students – whether or not these change according to the fee charged will depend on how they have been advertised.
In all the above circumstances, please contact your key contact at OFFA straight away to discuss what you want to do.
Following the end of the academic year of your access agreement you will be subject to our monitoring process.