Government aims to double rate of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“The Prime Minister and Minister for Universities have set a goal to double the rates of students from disadvantaged backgrounds by 2020” Professor Les Ebdon, Director to Fair Access to Higher Education revealed today in the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) agreement decisions for 2016-17.

A total of 183 access agreements have been approved by OFFA, giving universities and colleges challenging targets to make swift progress on fair access to higher education. Each university and college with an access agreement sets their own targets which are then subject to OFFA’s approval.

For 2016-17, around three quarters of institutions set a target to improve the rates of students continuing with their studies, around 15 per cent set a specific target to help ensure that their students were well prepared for life after graduation, and all institutions have set a target on the make-up of their student body.

Many targets focus on particular groups of disadvantaged students such as care leavers which over a fifth of institutions have set targets to help, and disabled students which a round a third of institutions have set targets for. “Approximately forty per cent of institutions set targets around specific ethnic groups. This includes a range of targets to reduce attainment gaps between different groups of students” says the report.

Universities and colleges predict a total investment of £750.8 million in steady state through their access agreements, 2.1 per cent more than predicted in 2015-16 . This is broken down in the report as follows:

  • £149.3 million on access activities. This includes long-term sustained outreach work, which identifies learners at an early stage, and helps to raise aspirations and attainment
  • £148.0 million on work to support students through their studies – for example through tailored induction programmes for particular groups of students
  • £54.6 million on progression activities, to ensure that students are well prepared for life after graduation
  • £399.0 million on financial support, including bursaries, fee waivers and hardship funds. A decrease of 3.2%in cash terms.

Wonkhe OFFA Access agreements for 2016-17 expenditure by type

121 higher education institutions (HEIs) and 62 further education colleges (FECs) submitted agreements for 2016-17. 183 in total compared to 172 for 2015-16. More FECs wishing to charge more than the basic fee has resulted in an increase in the number of access agreements. In 2016-17, 76 per cent of institutions with access agreements (139 institutions) will charge a maximum of £9,000 for some or all of their courses, says the report.

OFFA’s latest monitoring of access agreements for 2013-14 showed institutions were on course to meet of had met 90% of the targets they set from 2011.

There has been a 61 per cent increase in the participation rate of 18 year-olds from the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods entering higher education since 2006.

“Eroding the stubborn link between your background as a child and your life chances as an adult is a long-term project. But I am confident that this set of agreements can – and will – make a real and lasting difference for many years to come” said Professor Les Ebdon,Director of Fair Access to Higher Education.

Read the Access agreements for 2016-17: key statistics and analysis.

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