Introducing access agreements
Please note: From academic year 2019-20, access agreements are being replaced by access and participation plans agreed with the Office for Students (OFS). For more information, please refer to the OFS guidance for that process.
Access agreements for academic years up to and including 2018-19 remain in force for students covered by those agreements.
What is an access agreement?
Access agreements set out how a higher education provider will sustain or improve access, student success and progression among people from under-represented and disadvantaged groups. They must be approved by the Director of Fair Access as a condition of charging higher tuition fees.
To understand what should be included in your access agreement, please see How to prepare and submit your access agreement: step by step guide.
How long do access agreements last?
Access agreements must be submitted annually, but the fees and commitments made in each agreement remain in force for the cohort of students who entered in the year it applies to, throughout their studies. So you will normally have several agreements running concurrently for your students at any one time, relating to different years of entry.
Who has to have an access agreement?
For the academic years up to and including 2018-19, you need to have an OFFA-approved access agreement if you:
- provide undergraduate higher education courses and/or those postgraduate courses, such as PGCEs, that are subject to regulated fees, and
- are directly funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) or the Secretary of State for Education and
- are subject to a ‘condition of grant’ under Section 24 of the Higher Education Act 2004 and
- wish to charge any home/EU students more than the basic fee for any fee-regulated course(s) – even if just one student on one course.
School-centred initial teacher training providers (SCITTs) and non-HEI teacher training providers do not need an access agreement because they do not meet the criteria listed above.
If your fees have changed
If you have charged students above the basic fee in previous years, but are not planning to charge more than the basic fee for students who start their courses in a subsequent year, you do not need a new access agreement to cover those new entrants. However, students who started in previous years will remain on the terms of whichever access agreement applies to them.
Access agreements for further education colleges
For academic years up to and including 2018-19, further education colleges (FECs) must have their own access agreement if they are directly funded by HEFCE for any fee-regulated courses with a fee above the basic fee. A directly funded course is one that may be validated by a higher education institution (HEI) but the funding is received directly by the college.
If a course for which a higher fee is charged is indirectly funded – that is to say, where the college receives funding through a sub-contractual “franchise” arrangement with an HEI – it is the responsibility of the sub-contracting HEI to cover that course in its access agreement. We would expect HEIs to consult their partner FECs when writing their access agreement.
Therefore, depending on its provision, an FEC’s higher education courses may be solely covered by its own agreement if it is directly funded, solely by the agreement of its franchising partner (or partners) if it is indirectly funded, or by a combination of the two.
There is no requirement, or expectation, that fee levels or access measures should be the same at partner institutions, as we recognise that each institution will have its own circumstances and priorities to address. Those institutions with sub-contractual arrangements will need to be clear in their access agreements about courses delivered at partner institutions, setting out the fees and any financial support arrangements for such courses where they are different from their own arrangements. Institutions are responsible for monitoring their sub-contracted courses, and will need to be clear about whether such courses are included in their institution’s targets or not.
For academic years up to and including 2018-19, the newly formed institution resulting from a merger must submit a new access agreement to us regardless of whether one or both of the individual institutions previously had an approved agreement. More information for merged institutions
Still not sure?
If you are not sure whether you need an access agreement please contact us.
If you think you might need an access and participation plan for academic years from 2019-20 onwards, please contact the Office for Students.
I need to develop an access agreement – how do I start?
Our website offers full guidance on the process and our expectations. Start with our step-by-step guide which links to more detailed guidance.
You can also call our team of policy advisers for one-to-one discussion and advice. Contact details