Russell Group universities redouble efforts to attract poorer students

12 July 2011

Commenting on the 2012-13 access agreements announced today by OFFA, Dr Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group of universities said:

“Today’s OFFA information clearly demonstrates the enthusiasm and commitment of Russell Group universities in England to ensure that every student with the qualifications, potential and determination to succeed has the opportunity to gain a place at a leading university, whatever their background.

“In the next few years, Russell Group universities will be building on their existing excellent programmes to improve access by pumping millions into outreach activities and financial support.  By 2015-16, Russell Group universities will be spending collectively £28.8million on outreach activities and £153.7million on fee waivers, bursaries and scholarships for students. Russell Group institutions will be investing 32.3% of their fee income above £6,000 in these measures to widen access to poorer students – significantly more than many other universities. Generous fee waivers mean that the average fees paid by students at Russell Group institutions will generally be well below the headline rate.

“However, we remain concerned that the access agreements risk focusing too much on regulation rather than resolving the real problems: underachievement at school and poor advice on the best choices of A-level subjects and university degree course. Our universities will be investing millions of pounds in measures designed to help tackle the issue of the under-acheivement of students from lower-income backgrounds but we cannot solve this problem alone. 

“We hope that OFFA fully recognises the challenges of setting and achieving really quite specific targets for access when universities do not have the power to solve the root cause of the problem of the under-representation of students from disadvantaged backgrounds – and when a radically new higher education funding system is being introduced.

“The emphasis on outcome targets could even disincentivise universities from continuing with activities in deprived areas which target the students who are the hardest to reach.  It is very difficult to ensure that these students will actually apply to the university funding the outreach scheme. But these schemes are often very successful at inspiring non-traditional students to study at a range of other colleges or universities.

“Financial penalties for not meeting these targets would not only be unfair but they would also reduce money available for programmes to help poorer students win a place at all our universities. Finally it is important to emphasise that admission to university is and should be based on merit and high academic standards must be maintained.”

Notes to editors

  1. Sir Martin Harris, the former Director of Fair Access, acknowledged that without the efforts of our universities in outreach programmes to date, we would have seen a decline in both the absolute and relative participation rates of such students in the most selective institutions. (What more can be done to widen access to highly selective universities? Sir Martin Harris, April 2010 pp48)In 2015–16 the £28.8million which Russell Group Universities will spend on outreach measures will be used to support numerous summer schools, open days, special entry routes and access programmes to give students from lower socio-economic groups the best possible chance of winning a place.  
  2. By 2015-16 Russell Group universities in England plan to spend £153.7million of their additional fee income on financial support for students. This represents an average per institution of £9.6million with some of our universities spending as much as £17million. Overall, this amounts to over £5.9million more per institution than the sector average of £3.7million.  This investment will be targeted so that those in most need of financial support receive the help they need.
    Of course, access to Government loans means that no student will have to  pay their fees upfront, and loan repayments are only required from graduates once they are earning a reasonable salary. Students from poorer families will also be entitled to Government grants to help with living costs.  
  3. OFFA estimates that access agreement expenditure as a proportion of fee income above the basic fee will be 32.3% in 2015-16 across the Russell Group, compared to 26.7% across all HEIs.
  4. Example of average fee levels after fee waivers at RGUs include £8,386 at King’s College London, £8.355 at University of Oxford and £8,168 at University of Bristol. Across the 16 Russell Group institutions the average figure is £8,571.
  5. The Russell Group’s guide Informed Choices gives guidance to teachers and students on the best A-level subjects to study to secure places on courses at Russell Group Universities.

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