Introduction to monitoring

Every year, we collect and analyse information about how universities and colleges are implementing their access agreements and the progress they have made in the latest academic year. We call this ‘monitoring’ and we publish the outcomes of it in the spring of the following academic year.

Why do we have a monitoring process?

As a regulator, OFFA has a responsibility to ensure that universities and colleges are meeting their commitments to individual students and are making progress towards the milestones and targets set out in their access agreements. Our annual monitoring process is the mechanism by which we do this.

If we find an institution has breached the terms of its access agreement, we will expect them to correct this, and in serious cases we may impose sanctions. More information about breaches and sanctions

Equally importantly, monitoring enables us to have better informed discussions with institutions about their progress and how they might improve further.

We publish the outcomes of our monitoring to provide transparency and accountability. Click here to see our latest monitoring outcomes, including institutions’ individual self-assessments and commentaries.

How do we monitor?

Monitoring of individual institutions

Once a year we ask universities and colleges with access agreements to tell us about the progress they have made against their targets, their fee income, and how they have delivered the commitments in their access agreement – that is, how much they have invested, what they invested in and any context or special circumstances that they would like us to take into account when assessing their progress. They can provide context to explain any changes in expenditure or progress against targets and, because we recognise that there may be delays between implementation and impact, they can tell us about this and set out when we can expect to see improvements in the associated outcomes.

After collecting and analysing this information, we publish it, including the self-assessments, contextual information, and commentaries on progress that higher education providers give us.

Because we aim for this to be a transparent process, individual institutions’ monitoring returns are unlikely to be treated as confidential except in very particular circumstances. (If you are submitting a monitoring return and consider any part of it to be confidential, please alert us to this and the reasons why.)

Our monitoring process is carried out jointly with the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s (HEFCE’s) monitoring of its funding for widening access for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, improving retention and improving provision for disabled students (and, previously, the Student Opportunity allocation and National Scholarship Programme (NSP)). We do this to enable us to gain a broader understanding of access agreement activity in the context of sector-wide investment in widening participation, and to reduce bureaucracy as part of our commitment to the ‘collect once, use many times’ principle of the government’s Regulators’ Code. There is further information about HEFCE’s monitoring on HEFCE’s website or contact Anju Kataria, Higher Education Policy Adviser at HEFCE (email: a.kataria@hefce.ac.uk, tel: 0117 931 7153).

For full details of our monitoring process and step-by-step guidance on how to complete a monitoring return, see our latest annual monitoring guidance.

Other sources of information that we use

We also work to understand as much as we can about performance at an institutional and sector level in advance of monitoring returns. We use UCAS and other applicant data to get the earliest evidence of applicant behaviour. We are also working with HEFCE, the Higher Education Statistics Agency and others to develop better central data through which we can monitor trends on under-represented groups.

How you will know if you need to submit a monitoring return

Monitoring begins in the autumn following the end of an academic year, with a submission deadline of the following January. So if your institution had an access agreement in the academic year before the current one, you will need to be part of the monitoring process.

We email each institution that needs to submit a monitoring return to alert them to the start of the process, but we may not have up to date contact details. If you haven’t received an email and you think you need to do a monitoring return, please contact your institution’s key OFFA contact.