New OFFA Director

20 February 2012

Russell Group Director General Dr Wendy Piatt said:

“We sincerely hope that the new director of OFFA will come to recognise the tough challenges we face in trying to widen access, as well as all our many and determined efforts to help tackle them.

“Our universities already spend five times more than OFFA requires on bursaries and we are planning to pump millions more into a broad range of outreach activities and financial support over the next few years.

“But it is really important to understand the root causes of the problem: the key reason why too few students from disadvantaged backgrounds even apply to leading universities is that they are not achieving the right grades in the right subjects at school. Universities can and do help but we simply cannot solve these problems alone.

“We remain concerned that the access agreements risk focusing too much on regulation rather than resolving the real problems. The emphasis on targets and powers for OFFA could distract attention, effort and resources from the many successful access schemes run by Russell Group universities or even disincentivise universities from continuing with some activities in deprived areas which target the students who are the hardest to reach.”

Notes to editors

  1. With one in eight universities, we provide nearly a quarter of all spending on bursaries and scholarships. About one in three Russell Group students receive a bursary or scholarship. In 2009-10 alone English Russell Group universities spent £82.2 million of their extra fee income on bursaries. This represents an average of £5.1 million per university, with some spending as much as £11 million. Overall, this amounts to over £2.2 million more per institution than the sector average. Over 37,000 students from the very poorest backgrounds attending Russell Group universities received bursaries averaging £1,641. This is more than five times the minimum bursary of £319 required by OFFA.
  2. By 2015-16, our universities will be spending £28.8million on outreach activities and £153.7million on fee waivers, bursaries and scholarships for students. Russell Group institutions will be investing 32.3 per cent of their fee income above £6,000 in these measures to widen access to poorer students – significantly more than many other universities. 
    The £153.7million spent on fee waivers, bursaries and scholarships for students 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. Recent A-level data confirmed that students who come from low-income backgrounds and/or who have attended comprehensive schools are much less likely to achieve the highest grades than those who are from more advantaged backgrounds and who have been to independent or grammar schools. In 2011, the proportion of A-level students from independent schools who gained AAA grades or above was nearly four times greater than the proportion getting such grades from comprehensive schools.

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