‘OFFA-countable’ access agreement expenditure
What will OFFA count as access agreement expenditure?
In order to be counted in your access agreement as expenditure on access, student success and progression (‘OFFA-countable’ expenditure), investment must fulfil both of the following two criteria:
- it must support under-represented and disadvantaged groups
- it must be committed from higher fee income and other post-2006 sources of funding which relate to one or more of the following:
- expenditure on widening participation activities that started after the introduction of variable fees in 2006 (‘additional’ activities)
- expenditure on activities that you previously funded through other means where these funding streams have been reduced or discontinued
- expenditure from other new and additional sources other than fee income, e.g. charitable donations
The following types of expenditure may be included:
- the direct costs of delivering financial support
- the direct costs of delivering access, student success and progression measures, including:
- relevant staffing (payroll costs of central widening participation units working wholly on widening participation activities including planning, delivering, monitoring and evaluating activities)
- payroll costs of staff time specifically allocated to widening participation work from professional support services (e.g. admissions, student services, careers, finance)
- remuneration costs of widening participation work undertaken by student ambassadors, student unions or alumni which are funded by the institution
- widening participation staff learning and development
- travel and other logistic costs of widening participation project delivery
- outsourced research and evaluation projects, including work to identify and develop equality and diversity protected characteristics of widening participation activities
- subscription and membership costs
- the indirect/support costs of widening participation activity, including:
- payroll costs of academic staff time apportioned to widening participation work
- infrastructure costs apportioned to strategic widening participation projects.
What does not count as access agreement expenditure?
In your access agreement expenditure, you should not include public funds, including HEFCE grant allocations such as targeted allocation for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, improving retention and improving provision for disabled students (previously the Student Opportunity fund) , the National Collaborative Outreach Programme and National Networks for Collaborative Outreach.
You should not include any spending on support for postgraduate students, apart from that which either:
- relates to postgraduate students on fee-regulated initial teacher training courses
- forms part of a direct progression pathway from undergraduate study at your institution – you may record spend on this activity as progression expenditure in your resource plan.
Higher education providers that employ Transparent Approach to Costing (TRAC) methodology should not allocate central and estates costs or apply sustainability adjustments as applied in TRAC.
‘Fair access’ includes work at all stages of the student lifecycle, but within the context of an access agreement, ‘access expenditure’ specifically relates to work targeted to potential students, their families and communities prior to making choices about entry to higher education. It includes:
- outreach work with schools, young people, adults with no prior experience of higher education, communities and disabled people
- strategic relationships with schools (strategic partnerships between schools and higher education providers such as sponsoring of an academy, federation or trust, university technical college or free school).
For the purpose of allocating costs, access expenditure includes:
- prior year preparation costs, if not previously included
- your annual share of collaborative outreach activity with one or more partner institutions or other bodies
- your annual share of student and staff directed costs of administering progression agreements including monitoring and evaluation of the scheme
- deployment of prior year bursary underspend to identifiable access activities
- costs of gathering and analysing contextual admissions data
- infrastructure costs committed to strategic/long term access projects
- promotional activities that are wholly or substantially directed to widening participation projects.
Access expenditure excludes marketing and advertising costs and general recruitment work that cannot be evidenced as contributing to fair access.
We expect that the vast majority of the costs of setting up or sponsoring a school would be provided by the Department for Education (DfE) rather than being incurred directly by higher education providers. For setting up new schools this will include a project development grant to support the project prior to opening and a post-opening grant to support the school in its early years as it builds to capacity. In addition, the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) will manage the process and provide capital funding for suitable accommodation for the school. For school sponsorship, funding depends on the phase of the school and level of challenge – please see the DfE website for more details. There is also the opportunity to apply for the DfE’s Regional Academy Growth Fund for additional funding to build capacity.
Any additional costs incurred by higher education providers in setting up or sponsoring a school (such as the higher education institution’s staff time) can be counted where this contributes to your work to raise attainment and support access for those from groups under-represented in higher education. We recognise that it may be difficult to disaggregate widening participation expenditure within your work to set up or sponsor a school and appreciate that you may need to use estimates. If you do so, please ensure that your estimate is based on a clear rationale relating to the proportion of spend benefiting those from underrepresented groups. Ongoing costs such as for outreach activity, teacher continuing professional development (CPD), or access to university or college facilities, may also be counted where they meet our broader guidance on access agreement-countable expenditure. If you are unsure whether a cost is countable, please contact us to discuss further.
We appreciate that much of the work that you do to improve student success (retention and attainment) and progression (to further study or graduate employment) may be embedded within your learning and teaching practices. To include student success and progression expenditure in your access agreement you will need to disaggregate these investments.
We will count purposed, proactive induction activities embedded within students’ courses, and on-course peer mentoring, as these may also be effective in building engagement and belonging, and increasing retention.
Student success expenditure may also be directed to:
- pre-entry (post-enrolment) interventions and activities for students: induction, bridging programmes and summer schools for currently registered students
- training and induction for staff in professional services and academic schools and faculties
- study skills programmes offered by libraries and study support teams.
Where new investment is not fully targeted at under-represented groups, or is untargeted, you may apportion the cost (a percentage of the overall costs) based on reasonable assumption. Your assumption may be based on the reapplication of actual cost data measured in an earlier year. Please provide us with the basis of the assumption, including the percentage you have applied. If you have no data on which to base a reasonable assumption on how to apportion expenditure, you should use as a proxy the proportion of OFFA-countable student numbers expressed as a percentage of the total number of students in the targeted group. Where you are including expenditure of this type in your access agreement, you are strongly expected to evaluate the impact of these schemes by under-represented and disadvantaged groups.
Progression expenditure may be directed towards:
- professional mentoring schemes
- other workplace schemes and formal placement programmes
- learn-while-you-earn initiatives
- advice and support on careers, employment and postgraduate study for targeted groups including students with disabilities
- surveys, analysis and research with graduates
- business incubation for current students.
Financial support (bursaries, scholarships, hardship funds etc)
You should not include as financial support any expenditure that is not awarded directly to students in order to provide a financial benefit, for example expenditure on the overall improvement of services for students and broader student success measures.
From 2014-15, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) incorporated funding that was previously allocated for the Access to Learning Fund (ALF) within the Student Opportunity Fund. You should not include this funding within your access agreement commitments. ALF has previously targeted students that OFFA would not define as under-represented or disadvantaged, such as students with a household residual income above the Government’s tiers for maintenance grants, and students beyond OFFA’s remit.
We will count expenditure invested in monitoring and evaluation of your access, student success and progression activities and financial support. You should include it within the cost of your activity and where possible divide it between the different areas of the student lifecycle. For example, expenditure invested in monitoring and evaluating access activities should be included within your access activity spend, while expenditure invested in monitoring and evaluating student success activities should be included within your student success spend.
If you choose to use contextual information, or are already using it, we are happy for you to tell us about this in your access agreement and to include any extra costs involved (for example, the cost of monitoring and evaluation) in your expenditure predictions.
Investment for part-time students
Where you have data on your access, student success and progression performance for part-time students, you may wish to take this into account in understanding your overall investment in your access agreement. However, we are aware that you may not have data on under-represented groups for part-time undergraduates in the same way that you do for full-time. We will therefore assume that you will invest the same proportion of your fee income from part-time students as you do from full-time higher fee income, unless you have evidence to support a different level of investment.
You may include expenditure on access measures for part-time students in your access agreement regardless of whether you charge higher fees for part-time courses.
Investment for disabled students
Institutions have a statutory duty under the Equality Act 2010 to make reasonable adjustments. We expect all institutions to be meeting this commitment and the cost of reasonable adjustments will not be countable access agreement expenditure.
You may count any expenditure on supporting access, student success and progression of disabled students in your access agreement where this goes beyond what would be considered ‘reasonable adjustments’ under the Equality Act 2010.
See our guidance note published on 17 December 2014 for full details of what expenditure you can include in your access agreement in response to the Government’s changes to Disabled Students’ Allowances.
You may count your expenditure on collaborative outreach and related activity as part of your overall access agreement spend. This includes expenditure on set-up costs such as building the networks required to ensure the effectiveness of collaborative activity, as well as setting up monitoring and evaluation systems.
Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) funding for the development of the National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP) and the Higher Education Access Tracker (HEAT) is not intended to subsidise or substitute your current investment, which forms part of your access agreement expenditure.
Where you incur costs for subscriptions to networks or services that support your access agreements, we are happy for you to include these (or a proportion of these) in your resource plan. This might include, for example, membership of collaborative networks or subscribing to academic journals focused on widening participation.
Expenditure incurred by higher education providers in relation to Supporting Professionalism in Admissions (SPA) may be included in your access agreement where it is related to widening participation and fair access.
SPA considers that widening participation and fair access represents around one-third of its work, taking into account both the proportion of general work that SPA does that benefits applicants from WP backgrounds and the specific work that it does specifically to support applicants from WP backgrounds.
So, in practice, you may generally count one-third of the cost of a payment or subscription to SPA as part of your access agreement expenditure, along with additional work that you may commission relating to widening participation or fair access.
For further information
If you have questions that are not answered here or need any further clarification about what may and may not be counted in your access agreement, please contact your institution’s key policy adviser at OFFA.