19 April 2012

Access Agreement guidance requires 'crystal ball gazing'

The university think-tank million+ has responded to the Access Agreement preparation guidance for 2013-14 issued today by the Office for Fair Access (OFFA). Despite the lengthy documentation provided, Pam Tatlow, Chief Executive of million+, has said that universities will also need to undertake ‘crystal ball gazing’ to prepare their Access Agreements in the continued absence of a decision by Ministers on the future of the student numbers market.

Pam Tatlow said: “The Office for Fair Access is right to issue guidance but unfortunately universities still do not know the rules of the games for student numbers in 2013-14. The student numbers market introduced for 2012-13 has removed funding and places from universities which admit students from a diverse range of backgrounds. Ministers have had months to decide whether to extend this market in 2013-14 but have failed to make any decision. OFFA understandably wants universities to submit Access Agreements by 31 May but university boards and governors are effectively being asked to crystal ball gaze and second guess the future. Ministers should now end all the speculation and make clear whether or not they are going to ignore the advice of officials in BIS and the Funding Council who have made clear that any expansion of the student numbers market in 2013 should be put on hold.”

Notes to editors:

  1. The grant letter from BIS Ministers to Hefce was issued on 25 January 2012 and had been expected to set-out plans for the student numbers market in 2013-14. Instead the announcement was delayed and Ministers committed to writing separately to set out their proposals for contestable places for 2013-14. This further letter is still to be sent and as a result, many university boards and governors have already had to agree fees for 2013-14 in order to begin preparing for the submission of Access Agreements to OFFA. A pause in expansion in 2013 would avoid a repeat of 2012 when fee and Access Agreements were resubmitted as a result of the late announcement about student number controls. It would also remove some of the uncertainty which is undermining strategic planning in the sector.