Offa guidance on access agreements

19 April 2012

Commenting on Offa’s guidance on access agreements Dr Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group, said:

“We remain concerned that the access agreements focus too much on regulation and too little on recognising the root causes of the problem: too many students from disadvantaged backgrounds who are not achieving the right grades in the right subjects.

“Focusing on application and admission targets will not resolve the real problem and risks being counter-productive. It could distract attention, effort and resources from outreach schemes and collaborative work by Russell Group universities which are successful in increasing the number of disadvantaged students going to university. Targets can disincentivise our universities from continuing with some activities which target the students who are the hardest to reach. 

“We note that the latest Offa guidance contains considerably more comment, views and specifications than previously on particular widening participation activities such as funding postgraduate internships, establishing free schools and providing information, advice and guidance.

“Our universities already engage extensively with schools in a range of different ways, from sponsoring academies to tutoring and mentoring and partnerships with specific boroughs and schools.

“Russell Group universities already take a range of factors into account to ensure that we can identify the candidates with the most talent from all backgrounds. But admission to university is based on merit and fairness to all candidates, and any decisions about admissions must maintain high academic standards.

 “With one in eight universities, we provide nearly a quarter of all spending on bursaries and scholarships. Our universities will pump millions more into a broad range of outreach activities and financial support over the next few years, with spending rising rapidly. We do, however, have limited funds and we need to make sure enough is also being spent on ensuring all students receive the first class education they deserve.”

Notes to editors

  1. With one in eight universities, we provide nearly a quarter of all spending on bursaries and scholarships. About one in three Russell Group students receive a bursary or scholarship. In 2009-10 alone English Russell Group universities spent £82.2 million of their extra fee income on bursaries. This represents an average of £5.1 million per university, with some spending as much as £11 million. Overall, this amounts to over £2.2 million more per institution than the sector average. Over 37,000 students from the very poorest backgrounds attending Russell Group universities received bursaries averaging £1,641. This is more than five times the minimum bursary of £319 required by OFFA.
  2. By 2015-16, our universities will be spending £28.8million on outreach activities and £153.7million on fee waivers, bursaries and scholarships for students. Russell Group institutions will be investing 32.3 per cent of their fee income above £6,000 in these measures to widen access to poorer students – significantly more than many other universities.
  3. The £153.7million spent on fee waivers, bursaries and scholarships for students represents an average per institution of £9.6million with some of our universities spending as much as £17million. Overall, this amounts to over £5.9million more per institution than the sector average of £3.7million.  This investment will be targeted so that those in most need of financial support receive the help they need.  Of course, access to Government loans means that no student will have to pay their fees upfront, and loan repayments are only required from graduates once they are earning a reasonable salary.  Students from poorer families will also be entitled to Government grants to help with living costs.
  4. Recent A-level data confirmed that students who come from low-income backgrounds and/or who have attended comprehensive schools are much less likely to achieve the highest grades than those who are from more advantaged backgrounds and who have been to independent or grammar schools. In 2011, the proportion of A-level students from independent schools who gained AAA grades or above was nearly four times greater than the proportion getting such grades from comprehensive schools.


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