Offa releases details of revised access agreements

Proposals by 25 universities and colleges to cut their tuition fees so they can bid for 20,000 cut-price undergraduate places in 2012-13 have been approved by the Office for Fair Access, but it has led to only a small fall in the sector average of £90 to £8,071.

December 2, 2011

The institutions – mostly post-1992 universities – had submitted revised “access agreements” to the body in a bid to qualify for the “core and margin” scheme, which is only open to those charging average fees of £7,500 or less.

Much of the fee cut has been achieved by transferring spending from bursaries to fee waivers – with £37.4 million extra going into waivers and the institutions cutting bursary and scholarship spending by £13.8 million.

There has also been an extra £2.1 million in planned spending on outreach and retention, bringing the total additional investment in access measures under the changes to £18.4 million.

Headline fees at the institutions have been cut by an estimated total value of £16.3 million with 11 of the 25 reducing charges for some or all of their courses, mostly for foundation degrees and foundation years.

Fee reductions range from £50 to £2,900 while four universities – Chester, Cumbria, Teesside and the Institute of Education, University of London – have reduced fees for some or all of their undergraduate honours degrees.

However, the changes have only a small effect on the sector average fee, which ministers had originally assumed would be £7,500 for 2012-13.

The overall average is now £8,354 (from £8,393) while it is £8,071 (from £8,161) once fee waivers are taken into account.

Other institutions given the green light to bid for cut-price places include pre-92 Aston University, the universities of Hertfordshire, Huddersfield, Winchester and Worcester and one further education college, Sparsholt in Hampshire.

Offa had reported before that universities and colleges had sought revised agreements to bid for the places, but in the end two made changes that were not intended to help them enter the scheme.

A number of other universities have also made amendments to their existing agreements that are not connected to the core and margin proposals.

In addition, Offa has approved new access agreements for 10 further education colleges that are now planning to charge more than £6,000 for some directly-funded higher education places.

The universities and colleges must now inform all students that have already applied for courses of any changes to their fees or financial support package by 7 December.

They then have the chance to change their application.

Sir Martin Harris, the Director of Fair Access, said while fee waivers had “significantly” increased and bursaries had been cut there was no net reduction in the overall financial support for any student.

But he said Offa would be doing further research on the relative effectiveness of bursaries and fee waivers.

“If evidence emerges that one method of financial support is more effective than another, then we will advise the government and the sector accordingly,” he said.

The National Union of Students said that by switching funding from bursaries to fee waivers to “cope with the moving goal posts of funding policy”, the universities that had revised their access agreements had taken £13.8 million “out of students’ pockets”.

Liam Burns, the NUS president, said: “Fee waivers are a con trick that will only benefit graduates who are earning enough to pay off their student loans within 30 years. They help the Treasury, who have to spend less on loans, but are of no benefit to students whatsoever.”

simon.baker@tsleducation.com

The 24 higher education institutions with newly approved access agreements that will allow them to bid for the 20,000 ‘core and margin’ places are:

Anglia Ruskin University
Aston University
Canterbury Christ Church University
University of Chester
University of Chichester
University of Cumbria
University of Gloucestershire
University of Hertfordshire
University of Huddersfield
Institute of Education
Leeds Trinity University College
London South Bank University
Nottingham Trent University
Roehampton University
Southampton Solent University
University College Plymouth St Mark and St John
St Mary's University College
University Campus Suffolk
Teesside University
University of West London
University of Winchester
University of Wolverhampton
University of Worcester
York St John University

One further education college, Sparsholt College Hampshire, also was given approval.

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