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

Targets and milestones in your access agreement

Setting targets

You are responsible for setting your own targets and milestones, but they need to be approved by the Director of Fair Access. When reviewing your targets, we would expect you to consider targets that support the strategic priorities set out in our annual strategic guidance and reflect the desired outcomes of your activities.

What targets should you have?

The targets that you choose should be based on your assessment of where you need to improve on access, student success or progression. That assessment should relate to where you are starting from, and take into account your strategic priorities, so that you are using a strategic approach in your fair access work overall.

You may wish to add targets where you have established new programmes or have changed your strategic priorities. Any new targets must be ambitious, reflect your strategic priorities and performance across the student lifecycle, and be set across five years with annual milestones to help you to monitor your progress.

If you choose to add new milestones to existing targets, they should continue the same trajectory of ambition as approved milestones. We would not usually expect any other changes to be made to existing targets.

It is a requirement of your access agreement to include at least one statistical target around entrants. While you may include state school indicators alongside other measures of disadvantage, you should not use this as your only target on entrants.

In addition to this, we expect you to have:

We expect all institutions, particularly those with relatively low proportions of students from under-represented groups, to demonstrate how you intend to make progress in improving access, success and/or progression for these students in line with the aims expressed in our strategic plan, which is informed by guidance from Ministers.

Defining baseline data

The targets you set in support of your activities should clearly define what data has been used to form them, including information on whether the data underpinning your targets is based on an external source, such as Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) data, or is internally gathered.

HESA performance indicators

In 2013-14, HESA conducted a methodological review of its performance indicators (PIs). As a result of this review HESA announced the discontinuation of the National Statistics Socio-economic Classification (NS-SEC) PI from 2017. Similarly, the POLAR2 PI was discontinued in 2013-14, and replaced by POLAR3. Where you currently have targets based on NS-SEC or POLAR2 data, these should be replaced by more up to date measures for your next access agreement.

Targets you have set previously

If you have a current access agreement in force, the resource plan you download and complete as part of your next access agreement will be pre-populated with your existing targets and milestones using the information you provided to us in your previous access agreement.

You should not remove or amend targets from your existing access agreement, and you must carry over all targets from your latest agreement to the following one, except where OFFA has approved such changes. Please note that we will only agree to a change of targets in exceptional circumstances: for example, we might permit a change if the programme being measured is discontinued or the target otherwise becomes obsolete. Where a target or milestone has not been achieved, we would expect you to improve your activities rather than change the target or milestone (see Retaining the ambition of your agreed targets).

If you wish to discuss changing targets please contact us.

If, with our approval, you adopt different measures or performance indicators from those in your current access agreement, we may wish you to continue monitoring against the old measures for a period, in order to maintain an understanding of your progress over time and to understand the relationships between the different measures or methodologies.

Retaining the ambition of your agreed targets

Where you have seen underperformance on access, student success or progression, or a decline in recruitment, we do not consider a reduction in the ambition of your targets to be an appropriate response. Therefore we will not approve a decrease in the overall ambition shown in any previously agreed target on the basis of changing recruitment patterns or a decline in performance.

Instead, we would expect you to consider refining and improving your activities. In such cases, we strongly encourage additional evidence-based activity which may require additional investment.

However, we recognise that activities should be planned on a long-term basis, using trends in data to inform them; we do not encourage uninformed responses. Therefore we recognise that you may prefer to wait until more data is available before reviewing your strategy.

Collaborative targets

We strongly encourage you to develop collaborative targets because they can help you to illustrate the value of your collaborative work, and to link your efforts in this area with related achievements.

Collaborative targets allow you to demonstrate the effectiveness of general aspiration-raising interventions, even where these do not directly translate into recruitment to your institution. For example if you are collaborating with other regional higher education providers, you may wish to set a target on the number of students entering higher education following your access activities at a regional or national level, not just at an institutional level. Some institutions have also developed collaborative targets around the provision of information, advice and guidance, or on joint interventions such as summer schools.

The collaborative targets you set should be evidence-based and you should build in ways to evaluate the impact of your activity over time. Some institutions are investing in collaborative ways of tracking potential students which will be a useful resource to enable you to set meaningful collaborative targets in the future. We are happy for you to include the cost of setting up such systems in your access agreement.

If you have set collaborative targets with partner institutions, we would encourage you to ensure these targets feature in all partner institutions’ access agreements, if they have them.

As with all targets, collaborative targets should be evidence-based and you should build in ways to evaluate the impact of your activity over time.

Related guidance

Collaborative working

Equality and diversity targets

Your institution may have relevant objectives on access, student success and progression that it is working towards to comply with the Equality Act 2010, and we would expect these objectives to inform your access agreement.

When setting equality targets, you may wish to use national data provided by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) and the Equality Challenge Unit to benchmark your institution.

Given the Government changes to Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA), if you are including a target in relation to disabled students, you should consider whether a target based on the HESA indicator of students who are in receipt of DSA is the most appropriate measure. For example, it may be more useful to look at the proportion of students declaring a disability and, where appropriate, disaggregate it by impairment type.

You may wish to evaluate your current access initiatives by protected characteristic to highlight any differences in how your work impacts on different groups of people. For example, students with different disabilities face different barriers to access, student success and progression, so you may wish to consider whether your targets account for this.

You might consider which students are less likely to finish their course, leave your institution with a 2:1 or first class honours degree and/or to be in graduate-level employment after six months of graduation, and set targets accordingly. For further detail on this, see HEFCE’s Profile and progression of entrants to full-time, first degree study.

Some ethnic groups or sub-groups are well-represented in higher education generally, while others are under-represented. Any targets you include should take into account which ethnic groups or sub-groups are under-represented in your institution.

Related guidance

Equality and diversity in access agreements

Targets for further education colleges

The main published HESA performance indicators do not currently cover further education colleges, but FECs may wish to refer to HEFCE publication 2016/01, Higher education indicators for further education colleges: Overview of trends for the widening participation, non-continuation and employment indicators, which gives indicators for higher education provision registered at HEFCE-funded FECs in England. This information is only available for 2009-10 and 2010-11, and does not cover all FECs, so you will also need to use your own data to assess your track record. Where you have your own data on student social class or descriptions of current access and widening participation measures, you should include it in your access agreement.

The Association of Colleges (AoC) and Action on Access briefing on widening participation measures and indicators may also be useful to further education colleges when setting targets.

Targets for part-time courses

We recognise that where you choose to add targets to reflect the inclusion of part-time courses, in some cases these may be developmental in nature. For example, you may need to do further work to understand the make-up and characteristics of your part-time learners, because HESA performance indicators for part-time students are less extensive than for full-time students. Where this is the case, you should state this, including where you may look to develop a target in subsequent years.

You may also wish to refer to HESA non-continuation data for part-time students (HESA T3e) in informing your work in this area, although you should note that there can be particular difficulties with data around part-time students due to the flexibilities in the patterns of study and time taken to complete a course.

What happens if you don’t make progress against your targets?

Access agreements are reviewed and renewed annually, and where it’s clear that you are not making progress against your targets, we will discuss the reasons for this with you and, if necessary, ask you to address the issue. Initially, you should investigate putting new measures in place to tackle your lack of progress. We might also steer you towards areas of good practice if we felt this was necessary.

If we remain unsatisfied with your progress, we will direct you to concentrate on particular areas of activity, or to target your financial support better. We might also direct you to increase your overall expenditure on access under your agreement.

We want to understand the progress you are making with both your longer and shorter term initiatives. For example, if your progress in meeting your targets for applicants and entrants is flatter than expected, we would want to understand whether there were any short-term actions you could take to improve this. We would also consider whether you have sufficiently invested in longer-term access where monitoring and evaluation show this is likely to pay dividends in future years and, if so, when this is likely to happen.

OFFA has the power to impose sanctions if you breach the terms of your access agreement. However, we would not apply a sanction solely on the basis of you not meeting your targets or milestones.

Related guidance

How we monitor your access agreement

Choosing your access activities

Student success and progression

Access agreement breaches


Page last updated: 9 February 2017