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University funding: an update

10 February 2011

A message from the Vice-Chancellor on the role of Access Agreements in university funding.

Today the Secretary of State and the Minister of State for Universities and Science wrote to the Director of the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) with details of how the Government expects OFFA to approach the approval and monitoring of new Access Agreements for universities. This marks an important step for universities as they consider fee levels.

There is much to digest and senior colleagues and I are considering how our institution should respond. Meanwhile, I would like to make you aware of some of the key points.

First, and importantly, we have always been clear that Bristol will do all it can to ensure that those who have the potential to benefit from an education here get that opportunity, regardless of their financial circumstances or social background. This is fundamental to our mission and is something we have done for a long time, even before the term widening access was part of the sector’s vocabulary. 

What is becoming clear from the Government’s communication to OFFA is that universities’ aspirations and achievements in terms of widening access will soon be under far more scrutiny. Here are some of the key points:

  • any university that wishes to charge more than £6,000 must submit a new Access Agreement for OFFA’s approval and progress against the agreement will be monitored annually;
  • the factors on which we are likely to be measured will be focused on outcome rather than activity;
  • within the Government’s overt objective to increase social mobility through an increased focus on widening access, there is a subtext which points to a need for higher education institutions to demonstrate the added value they bring in terms of increasing individuals’ employability prospects.

Much work will be done to fully understand the implications for Bristol. We understand that the ramifications of these decisions will reach far and wide and we will update colleagues as soon as a decision has been reached.

While we consider our position, I think it is helpful to keep in mind Bristol’s significant strengths and maintain our focus on the truly excellent education and research for which we are rightly renowned.