Opening the doors wider to higher education

Universities and colleges set challenging new targets to make speedier progress on fair access to higher education

The new targets, agreed with the Office for Fair Access (OFFA), form part of the 183 access agreements recently approved, and will help meet a Government ambition to double the rate of students from disadvantaged backgrounds entering higher education by 2020 (compared to 2009).

Professor Les Ebdon, Director of Fair Access to Higher Education, said: “The access agreements I have approved show that universities and colleges are setting stretching and ambitious targets to attract students from disadvantaged areas and then support them through their studies.”

Since 2006 there has been a 61% increase in the participation rate of 18-year-olds from the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods entering higher education.

“There are now greater rates of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in higher education than ever before – but we know that talent is still being lost,” Prof Ebdon added. “Too many people who have the talent to excel are not given full opportunity to demonstrate their ability.

“By making progress towards their own fair access challenges, universities and colleges will contribute to the Government’s national fair access goals. The work and ambition universities and colleges have committed to will transform lives. The outreach work universities have planned will open the door to higher education for people who might otherwise have thought it was not for them.”

Each university and college with an access agreement sets their own targets depending on their own circumstances; targets are then subject to OFFA’s approval. Among the targets universities and colleges have set for their 2016-17 access agreements are that all institutions have set a target on the make-up of their student body and around 75% will set a target to improve the rates of students continuing with studies, while around 15% set a specific target to help ensure that students were well prepared for life after graduation.

In total, universities and colleges predict that they will invest £750.8 million (in steady state) through their 2016-17 access agreements. This consists of:

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

The Office for Fair Access (OFFA) is an independent, non-departmental public body established under the Higher Education Act 2004 to help promote and safeguard fair access to higher education for people from under-represented groups. Access agreements for 2016-17: key statistics and analysis, was published on 16 July at

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