Research by the National Union of Students (NUS) published found that universities were not adequately consulting students and students’ unions before submitting their plans for student support and outreach.
Two-thirds (67 per cent) of those students’ unions who responded to the NUS survey said that they either been inadequately consulted or not been consulted at all in the drawing up of access agreements. A number of universities changed their access agreements late in 2011, moving away from offering bursaries which help students while they are studying towards partial fee waivers which only benefit higher earning graduates.
The new findings come despite guidance for institutions published by OFFA in March 2011 recommending that institutions should consult with students’ unions when creating their new access agreements for 2012.
NUS said that, as universities were neglecting to consult those that were supposed to benefit from access agreements, the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) should reject any proposals from universities if they were submitted without thorough consultation with students.
The publication of the report follows the announcement that Professor Les Ebdon will take over from current OFFA Director Sir Martin Harris later this year after a controversial appointment process. OFFA will publish its latest guidelines to universities before Professor Ebdon becomes Director of Fair Access.
Liam Burns, NUS President, said:
“Too many universities aren’t open to genuine input for students' unions when developing their access agreements and if they won’t voluntarily engage with their students then OFFA must compel them to do so."
“Professor Ebdon has said he will veto inadequate access agreements and his outgoing predecessor should not allow an access agreement to be signed off where there has been not been sufficient consultation with students’ unions.
“Universities are spending students’ fees on access measures and we should have our opinions not only heard but properly listened and responded to. Students’ unions can be positive and constructive partners in the process of developing access agreements if they are properly engaged from the start.”
*Of 36 students' unions who responded to NUS' survey in November/December 2011:
24 (67 per cent) said that they either been inadequately consulted or not been consulted at all;
11 unions (31 per cent) said they had they had experienced engagement with reservations;
7 unions (19 per cent) said they had experienced only "cursory consultation;" and
6 unions (16 per cent) said they had not been consulted at all.