Guidance for universities and colleges with access agreements
There are two sanctions open to us if, in the opinion of the Director of Fair Access to Higher Education, you have failed to comply with any provision of your access agreement once it has been approved. We can:
- direct HEFCE (the Higher Education Funding Council for England) or the Secretary of State for Education to deduct a fine from your grant or suspend part of your grant until you have put matters right
- refuse to renew your access agreement, thereby preventing you from charging undergraduate students tuition fees above the standard level for a period of time.
Minor breaches may not be subject to sanctions. More details about how we deal with minor access agreement breaches
When looking at a potential breach, the Director will take account of the possible impact of the failure to comply with the relevant provision, alongside the efforts you have made to comply with the other commitments within your agreement.
Where you have made all reasonable efforts, the Director will consider whether further action is necessary. For example, if you were to spend less than you promised on access programmes because you had an unavoidable delay in implementing a project, the Director would want assurance about your future access expenditure but would be unlikely to apply a fine. Similarly, if you were to make an error in delivering financial support to students as a result of a genuine oversight or misunderstanding, the Director would require you to rectify the situation and pay any shortfall in support to affected students, but might choose not to issue a fine.
Where, after initial investigation, the Director is not satisfied with his findings, we will formally write to your governing body setting out proposed sanctions and the reasons for them, and invite their representations. The governing body will have 21 working days from the date of the letter to respond with any representations before the Director takes a decision on whether to impose sanctions.
If no representations are received or if, after examining any representations, the Director is satisfied that you have failed to comply with any provision of your agreement, the Director may impose a financial penalty and may additionally refuse to renew your access agreement for a period they specify. This would prevent you from charging fees above the basic amount to students who start their studies in any year when you do not have any approved access agreement in place. Such entrants would only be liable to pay the basic fee for the duration of their course.
The Director can ask HEFCE to withhold up to £500,000 of your grant, either temporarily until you have honoured your commitments, or permanently as a fine.
If you have charged students a fee that is above the level set out in your access agreement the Director will ask HEFCE to withhold part of your grant until you have repaid your students. This will be 110 per cent of any difference between the fees charged or the higher amount permitted in the regulations (whichever is lower) and the level of fee permitted by your access agreement. In addition, HEFCE may also decide on its own account to withhold further grant where fees charged exceed the higher amount permitted in legislation. This will also be at a rate of 110 per cent of the difference between the fees charged and the fee permitted by your access agreement.
If you have given an undertaking to provide bursaries, or undertake access, student success and progression work and have not made satisfactory efforts to deliver these plans, a proportion of your grant will be withheld until you have fulfilled your commitments. This will amount to 110 per cent of the difference between your actual and planned expenditure.
We publish the outcomes of all access agreement breaches once they are resolved. Click here to see details of resolved access agreement breaches
Targets and breaches
Access agreements include targets and milestones (set by the institution and approved by OFFA). Although we are focused on the outcomes that universities and colleges achieve under their access agreements, the Director would not impose a sanction solely on the basis of a university or college not meeting its targets or milestones. However, when deciding whether to impose a sanction on an institution in respect of failing to comply with any provision of its agreement, the Director would take into account any lack of progress towards targets, the effort made to achieve them and the possible reasons behind any lack of success.