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The proposals respond to the spending review settlement announced in November 2015 [Note 1] and the request in the January 2016 grant letter from the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills [Note 2] to retarget funding more effectively.

The grant letter asked us for a greater focus on:

  • institutions with higher proportions of ‘at risk’ students from disadvantaged backgrounds, including part-time students
  • access for those students with the educational attainment or potential to succeed in particular geographical areas where entry rates are below expectations
  • incentivising an inclusive learning and supporting environment for disabled students.

It also asked HEFCE to work with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to implement a new masters loan scheme and to advise on remaining barriers to progression to taught postgraduate level.

The consultation proposals address the goals identified in the Government’s May 2016 White Paper [Note 3] – in particular the ambition to double the proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds entering higher education by 2020 and to increase the number of black and minority ethnic students by 20 per cent – and thereby set the direction of travel for funding in this area through and beyond the Government’s plan for the creation of the Office for Students, which will bring together the functions of HEFCE and the Director of Fair Access in this area.

The proposals build on research and analysis published in a series of reports during 2015 [Note 4]. This evidence-based approach means we are better able to target our funding to ensure that the higher education sector can make swift and effective progress to meet the challenges across the student lifecycle that our research and the Government’s White Paper have identified.

Our proposals for access are to focus our investment on the National Collaborative Outreach Programme, which aims to meet the Government’s participation goals by targeting funding on areas where progression to higher education is lower than expected given prior attainment levels, and in doing so complement the investments institutions make from earlier in the education system through their access agreements with the Director of Fair Access.

Our proposals for a student premium recognise that support for social mobility requires investment across the student lifecycle, in particular ensuring that those institutions recruiting the highest proportions of ‘at risk’ students from disadvantaged backgrounds have the resources needed to ensure their success.

Our funding for supporting disabled students will help institutions to develop more inclusive, social models of support, including to address the increase in reported mental health problems. We seek views on the data to be used to determine these funds following the Government’s broader reforms to disabled students’ support.

Alongside this, we propose to continue to provide funding for high-cost subjects at taught postgraduate level and to provide supplements beyond this for flexible short-cycle provision, such as postgraduate certificates and diplomas, and for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, which will complement the new masters loan scheme.

Madeleine Atkins, Chief Executive of HEFCE, said:

‘These proposals represent the culmination of an extensive process of review. They will ensure that public investment is deployed effectively to support the Government’s ambitions for students from disadvantaged backgrounds and, importantly, that these students receive the best possible support for their progression through higher education into postgraduate study and work. In doing so, they set the pattern for government investment in this area through to 2020.’

Professor Les Ebdon, Director of Fair Access to Higher Education, said:

‘By 2019-20, universities and colleges predict they will spend over £750 million through their access agreements to promote fair access and ensure that disadvantaged students are supported through their studies and as they prepare for work or further study. In order to make further progress, it is crucial that public funding to promote fair access across the student lifecycle and access agreement spend are aligned. I look forward to working closely with HEFCE, Government and all those with an interest in improving the life chances of people from disadvantaged background as this important work continues.’ 

Notes

  1. Funding to support teaching in higher education: Consultation on arrangements for supporting widening access and successful student outcomes, including progression to taught postgraduate study (HEFCE 2016/10).
  2. Government Spending Review.
  3. Grant letter to HEFCE from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
  4. ‘Success as a knowledge economy: Teaching excellence, social mobility and student choice’ (Government White Paper).
  5. Student opportunity and success - policy and practice 2015-2020.
  6. Programme analysis of HEFCE’s Postgraduate Support Scheme: Final report to ESRC and HEFCE.
  7. Monitoring outcomes of the Student Opportunity allocation and National Scholarship Programme for 2014-15 will be published during the week beginning 13 June 2016.
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