Universities and colleges in England are on course to meet 90% of targets in their access agreements, and one in three targets has been met three years ahead of deadline says a report released by the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) released today.
The report, OFFA’s annual Outcomes of access agreement monitoring, says that in 2013-14 universities and colleges with access agreements “met, exceeded or made progress towards the great majority of their access agreement milestones and targets, throughout all stages of the student lifecycle (access, student success and progression). This included;
- meeting, or being on course to meet by their deadlines, 90 per cent of their targets (up from 83 per cent in 2012-13)
- meeting or making progress towards 87 per cent of their high-level outcomes targets related to entrants, applicants and non-continuation (2012-13: 83 per cent)
- being on course to meet 86 per cent of targets relating to long-term outreach, 78 per cent of retention targets and 78 per cent of targets related to supporting students’ employability”
Professor Les Ebdon, Director of Fair Access to Higher Education, said in the forward to the report; “The great thing about these numbers is that they aren’t just numbers. They tell a story of hope, opportunity and social mobility, a national success story of which the whole of English higher education should be proud.”
Looking at progress on targets relating to specific student groups, the report finds that institutions were on course to meet the majority of targets including; “85 per cent of targets relating to access for people from lower socio-economic backgrounds (NS-SEC) and 76 per cent relating to low- participation neighbourhoods (POLAR), 86 per cent of targets relating to care leavers, 87 per cent of targets relating to disability, 85 per cent of targets on engaging with and increasing access for state school pupils, 87 per cent of targets relating to gender, 79 per cent of targets relating to ethnicity.” Institutions met or were on course to meet 69% of targets for mature learners.
According to the report, universities and colleges with access agreements aligned their work on equality and diversity more closely than in previous years; “with their work on access, success and progression, especially activities focused on disability, gender and students from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.”
They also “continued to rebalance their investment towards student success and progression, and away from financial support.” And “delivered a larger proportion of their financial support awards to students as fee waivers than in 2012-13, reflecting the way universities and colleges responded to the requirements of the National Scholarship Programme and the Government’s ‘core and margin’ policy”.
In the academic year of 2013-14 the level of targeted financial support for students on low income and other under-represented groups was increased “although fewer students received an award than in 2012-13”.
In the same period £628 million was invested through university and college access agreements to improve access, student success and progression, up from £564 million in 2012-13.
Higher education providers, both with and without access agreements, “invested a total of £1.36 billion [in 2013-14] in widening participation, including through OFFA-approved access agreements, the National Scholarship Programme, the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s Student Opportunity allocation and other funds” says the report.
Several universities have been highlighted in the report due to their work on access. Liverpool John Moores University has overachieved it’s 10 per cent target of “home” students from BME backgrounds, achieving 11 per cent recruitment in 2013-14. Coventry University’s Disabilities Team has put in place new interventions for disabled students after realising through monitoring that progression rates were lower and non-completion rates were higher among some disability groups than others. The University of Nottingham has extended it’s induction support and developed a new mentoring scheme for mature students aiming to address lower continuation rates for mature students.
Finally the University of Essex has used data analysis to evaluate the impact of it’s bursaries on the behaviour among different groups of students. “The evaluation found that students in receipt of a bursary were more likely to continue on their course compared to those who do not”. The evaluation found that receiving a bursary had the greatest effect among mature students, students from the lowest participation neighbourhoods and female students.
“The tanker seems to be turning and we are seeing a trend of rising entry rates for disadvantaged young people that I hope will accelerate in years to come.” said Professor Les Ebdon, Director of Fair Access to Higher Education in the report.
Maddalaine Ansell, Chief Executive of University Alliance, said:
“Supporting people from non-traditional backgrounds to access and succeed in higher education is a particular strength of our universities. Our intake of students from lower socio-economic groups is higher than the sector average. OFFA’s figures demonstrate that beyond access we are helping these students acquire the education and broader skills they need to place them firmly on the path to success.
Professor Michael Gunn, Chair of million+ and Vice-Chancellor of Staffordshire University, said:
“Going forward there is a real need for OFFA and universities to work together to address the attainment gap linked with disabled students but also some BAME students who enter university with the same grades as their white peers but do not achieve the same degree outcomes.”
“OFFA is also right to point out that universities do not just use funding from access agreements to support this work. The government’s role in providing support through the Student Opportunity Allocation fund is also crucial. This Allocation totalled £332 million and needs to be sustained in full in the future.”
Dr Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group, said:
“OFFA rightly recognise the significant investment and efforts of our universities to ensure their doors are wide open to talented and able students from all backgrounds.