The Office for Fair Access closed at the end of 31 March 2018 and responsibility for higher education access regulation transferred to the Office for Students

Annual report: Director of Fair Access calls for universities to do more to address disadvantage across student lifecycle

Improving fair access requires a broad approach that recognises how disadvantage can linger over a lifetime, the Director of Fair Access to Higher Education argues today in his annual report to Parliament.

Writing in the foreword for OFFA’s annual report and accounts 2013-14, Professor Les Ebdon, Director of Fair Access to Higher Education, says:

“An effective approach to access should not stop at the front door when a person enters higher education. Disadvantage can follow you like a shadow down the years, affecting the degree you end up with and your ensuing postgraduate study or search for a job. For access to be meaningful, there must be appropriate support for students as they progress through their studies and continue to employment or postgraduate study.”

He says OFFA is encouraging universities and colleges to do more to engage across the whole student lifecycle, as well as looking at how they can diversify their student intake, taking “a strategic whole-institution approach in which multiple teams and departments co-operate to achieve their access goals”.

In this year’s annual report, Professor Ebdon also writes of his concern over continuing low numbers of part-time students, which remains a key issue because part-time study offers life-changing opportunities.

“The vast majority of the fall has been in non-first-degree courses including foundation courses or diplomas. Such courses are an important route into degree study for people from under-represented groups – giving a ‘second chance’ to those who have low or no entry qualifications and giving those already in employment the opportunity to reskill or upskill.”

He also emphasises that fair access and academic excellence go hand in hand, bringing benefits not just for individual students but for the wider economy and society:

“There is no conflict between fair access and academic excellence. Nor should there be. Fair access is about searching out academic potential wherever it is found – in every type of neighbourhood, every type of school, and every age group, ethnic group and gender. It’s about recognising that academic potential is not only reflected in existing qualifications. It’s about acknowledging that a wide range of people have the potential to become the excellent graduates who will later run our businesses and lead our country.

“We all benefit, economically and socially, from high-quality graduates, and it is in all our interests that universities and colleges recruit the very best minds, regardless of background.”


About the ‘whole student lifecycle’ approach – explanation and case studies

A whole student lifecycle approach involves engaging from an early age with prospective students to raise aspirations and attainment, and then supporting these students during their studies to stay on course, achieve an appropriate qualification, and go on to graduate-level employment or further study. Examples of institutions doing this include:

  • Nottingham Trent University (NTU) has a programme of sustained outreach from primary school age onwards, and targeted support for students while studying such as advice and guidance for those who become unsure that they have chosen the right subject and are therefore at risk of leaving: for details see NTU’s 2014-15 access agreement (sections 24 to 80)
  • Brunel University’s approach to access encompasses not only outreach and financial support but also activity to improve retention and success. It focuses on employer engagement to improve job prospects, including a programme of mentoring for undergraduates by professionals who work in a sector or industry related to the student’s subject or career aspiration. For more information see Brunel University’s website
  • The University for the Creative Arts (UCA) works with schools and colleges to integrate aspiration and attainment-building programmes into their curriculums, and provides a range of support for students that includes supporting entrepreneurship and partnering with local businesses to improve students’ employability: for details see UCA’s 2014-15 access agreement (section 7)
  • Birkbeck, University of London runs community outreach activities to encourage potential mature/part-time students and prepare them for advanced study, and offers a range of on-course support including help with study skills for those who have been out of formal education for some time: for details see Birkbeck’s 2014-15 access agreement (section 3.5).

For further information

For further information about OFFA’s annual report and accounts for 2013-14, contact  Zita Adamson (OFFA Communications Manager) on 0117 931 7272 or Sophie Mason (OFFA Communications and Press Adviser) on 0117 931 7204, or email For further information about any of the case studies please contact the relevant institution directly.

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