The Office for Fair Access (OfFA) today published the details of access agreements for institutions wanting to charge more than £6,000 per year for any higher education course.
139 institutions have submitted access agreements, including 16 further education colleges. Institutions use the agreements to explain what their fees will be, how much they will spend on student financial support including fee waivers and bursaries for disadvantaged students, and on outreach and retention activities. Institutions have also been asked to set themselves targets for improving access and retention. OfFA returned 52 access agreements for revision before they could be approved.
Overall sector expenditure is expected to rise to £738m by 2015, a figure that includes the government's £150 National Scholarship Programme. However, of this 'expenditure', £214m is accounted for through fee waivers, while bursary expenditure is expected to decrease. Fee waivers lower the cost of funding higher education to government, and do not make students any better-off while they are doing their courses. Moreover, the average fee will be a massive £8,161.
Expenditure on outreach and retention will increase. However, it remains to be seen how effective this provision will be following the scrapping of the national Aimhigher programme, which provided a framework for institutions to collaborate in raising the aspirations of disadvantaged prospective students.
Liam Burns said:
"Fee waivers are being used in a cynical attempt to cover up the mess made when the Government trebled the tuition fee cap, instead of properly supporting less-wealthy students. Vince Cable had stated that fees over £6,000 would only be levied in exceptional circumstances but his solemn promise has quite clearly now been left in tatters.
Despite assurances to the contrary, we are seeing less investment in supporting vulnerable studentsthrough bursaries and scholarships, and instead more emphasis on keeping Government borrowing downand reducing ministerial embarrassment. If access agreements are to be worth more than the paper they're written on they must be genuinely binding and OFFA must be given real powers to hold institutions to account when they fail to deliver."
NUS will be undertaking further work on the access agreements in the following weeks. Contact us with your thoughts and feedback, or comment below.
View your institution's access agreement here.