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Executive summary


1. This document presents the outcomes from HEFCE’s monitoring of the Student Opportunity allocation (SOA) for 2015-16.

Key points

2. HEFCE and the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) have carried out joint monitoring of institutions’ expenditure on widening participation (WP) activity and hardship support in 2015-16. OFFA published its outcomes of access agreements monitoring for 2015-16 in June 2017.

3. The key findings from the SOA monitoring for 2015-16 are:

  1. Overall the higher education (HE) sector has continued to increase its investment in WP activities since 2010-11. As shown in Figure 1, there has been a growth in the HE sector’s expenditure in WP activities across the student lifecycle from 2010-11 to 2015-16. The 2015-16 base data is available at Annex B.

Figure 1: Total HE sector expenditure from 2010-11 to 2015-16 by WP activity


Note: Additional £2.2 million unallocated in 2010-11.

  1. Figure 1 illustrates that:
    1. The total HE sector expenditure on WP activities shows a rising trend since 2010-11. The institutional investment in 2010-11 amounted to £690.7 million, a growth of £192.7 million when compared with £883.4 million in 2015-16.
    2. The majority of this growth in investment has occurred in supporting progression from HE (an increase of £62.6 million, leading to a figure more than four times as much in 2015-16 as in 2010-11) and in outreach work with schools and young people (an increase of £47.6 million).
    3. There have also been sizeable increases in institutional spending since 2010-11 on WP staffing and administration (£20.1 million), support for current students (£19.1 million), and support for disabled students (£18.6 million).
    4. Smaller increases in investment have occurred in other WP activities across the period, such as strategic partnerships with schools (an increase of £4.9 million from 2014-15, when this data was first collected), outreach work with communities and adults (an increase of £3.1 million from 2010-11), outreach work with disabled students (an increase of £2.4 million from 2012-13, when this data was first collected), and support for progression of disabled students (an increase of £2.1 million from 2013-14, when this data was first collected).
  2. Institutions spent £34.9 million on supporting students in hardship (4 per cent of the total HE sector expenditure on WP activity and hardship) in 2015-16. This is an increase from £33.7 million in 2014-15. For the first time, the sector has reported the total number of students receiving hardship funds, a figure of 39,505. We have analysed the percentage of students who received hardship funds compared to the total student population in 2015-16. A total of 1,861,345 students were enrolled at English higher education institutions (HEIs) in 2015-16 and of these students, 1.9 per cent (35,905) received hardship funds.
  3. Institutions reported that of their total expenditure in 2015-16 on access, student success and progression activity (£883.4 million), £30.4 million was spent on delivering this activity collaboratively. This is a decrease of £3.1 million from the previous year. This may be due to the additional investment from another source of £11 million made through the National Networks for Collaborative Outreach scheme in 2015-16, which has been monitored separately.
  4. In accounting for the funding sources used towards WP activity and hardship, institutions demonstrated that in 2015-16 the HEFCE SOA remained a key source of funding for investment to support WP work across the student lifecycle and students in hardship.

4. During the last decade, as a result of the sustained institutional investment in WP including through the SOA, the HE sector has made considerable progress to widen access to HE, support students to stay on their courses and support disabled students:

  1. The numbers of entrants to HE from the most disadvantaged backgrounds (as measured through the Participation of Local Areas (POLAR) classification) have increased from 13 per cent in the late 1990s to 25 per cent in 2014-15.
  2. The overall non-completion rates have also improved since the mid-2000s, from a rate of 14 per cent in 2002-03 for full-time first degree entrants to 10 per cent in 2014-15.
  3. The number of full-time undergraduate students in HE with a disability (as measured by the numbers receiving Disabled Students Allowance) increased from 25,000 to around 71,000 between 2003-04 and 2015-16. The non-continuation rates for disabled students improved from just over 9 per cent to around 6.5 per cent.

5. The increasing HE sector investment in WP activities over the years provides a clear signal of institutional commitment to supporting students across the student lifecycle. The activity described in the returns demonstrates the importance of HEFCE’s funding in helping institutions’ efforts to widen access, improve student outcomes and support students in financial hardship.

6. HEFCE made changes to its funding for 2016-17 to support the Government’s ambitions to make faster progress to widen access to HE, and also to recognise changes to the support needed for disabled students following reforms to the Disabled Students’ Allowance. Further changes to HEFCE’s funding from 2017-18 were announced by the HEFCE Board in March 2017, following our consultation on funding to support widening access and successful student outcomes, including progression to postgraduate study.

7. HEFCE will continue to conduct the monitoring of the 2016-17 targeted allocation for widening access, improving retention and improving provision of disabled students, in a similar way to the 2015-16 SOA monitoring process. However, this will include an additional request to institutions for more information on the use of their increased funding to improve provision for disabled students by developing more inclusive approaches to their support. HEFCE and OFFA currently expect to issue joint monitoring guidance in autumn 2017 and request submissions of returns by mid-January 2018. The duties and functions of HEFCE and OFFA will transfer to the Office for Students (OfS) on 1 April 2018 and so the publication of the monitoring outcomes of the targeted allocation for widening access, improving retention and improving provision of disabled students and access agreements is expected to be undertaken by the OfS in the summer 2018.

8. The monitoring process for 2017-18 funding for the student premium and the disabled students’ premium will be reviewed by the OfS to take account of the changes to funding.

Action required

9. This report is for information. 

Date: 29 June 2017

Ref: 2017/07

To: Heads of HEFCE-funded further education colleges, Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions

Of interest to those
responsible for:

Implementation of widening participation including access, student success and progression and the National Scholarship Programme; Finance

Enquiries should be directed to:

Anju Kataria, tel 0117 931 7153, email