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Dear Vice-Chancellor or Principal

1. This letter sets out how we are changing widening participation strategic assessments (WPSAs) to interim widening participation (WP) strategic statements to better align them with changing circumstances and requirements from other bodies, to help us to understand how institutions are responding to the changing higher education (HE) environment, and to evidence how our investment in widening participation is being secured for the public and student interest. We expect to use this information in any future government Spending Review discussions. The main changes are that:

  • We wish interim WP strategic statements to identify key priorities for 2012-13 on WP activity, and that where an institution is required to have an access agreement, we would like it to integrate the information we need into that agreement as far as possible.
  • We are adopting a very light-touch approach for 2012-13 in recognition that long-term strategic planning is difficult in this first transition year to a new funding environment.

2. This letter invites the submission of interim widening participation strategic statements to cover academic year 2012-13, by Friday 22 June 2012. It also outlines our future approach to the collection of longer-term widening participation strategic information from 2013-14.

Interim widening participation strategic statements for 2012-13

3. All higher education institutions and those further education colleges that expect to have over 100 full-time equivalent (FTE) directly HEFCE-fundable student numbers in 2012-13 will be expected to produce an interim widening participation strategic statement. The statement should be returned to HEFCE by Friday 22 June 2012. Its submission is a condition of receipt of the HEFCE widening participation allocation.

Purpose of the interim statement

4. Current WPSAs, which were submitted in 2009, cover the period 2009-10 to 2011-12. We originally intended to request new three-year statements in 2012, but recognise that changes within the HE system and upcoming changes to our method for funding teaching from 2013-14 (which is currently out for consultation1) mean that institutions will be better placed to respond to a request for full, three-year strategic statements in another 12 months . We cannot assume that institutions will simply continue with the approaches outlined in their 2009 submission, indeed the sector’s approaches to and understanding of widening participation has continued to evolve and develop over that period. Therefore we are now asking for a brief interim statement which will effectively cover the gap while affording institutions the time they need to re-visit and, where appropriate, recast their strategic approach to widening participation.

5. The interim statements will allow us – in what is intended to be a low-burden way – to understand how institutions are responding to the changing HE environment and provide an indication of how institutional WP strategies may need to be adapted or fundamentally re-shaped as a consequence of the reforms taking effect in 2012-13. Such statements, viewed alongside the access agreements already submitted to the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) for 2012-13, the agreements which will be submitted later this year for 2013-14 and information submitted in the joint annual monitoring returns process will inform the shared strategy for widening participation that we are developing with OFFA in response to the request in our grant letter from the Secretary of State2. Collectively, this information will also help us to understand how our funding is being secured for the public and student interest and will contribute to any future government Spending Review discussions. See paragraphs 11-16 on what we expect institutions to include in their interim widening participation strategic statements.

6. The shared strategy will be developed in a way that seeks to balance the information, monitoring and evaluation needs of OFFA and HEFCE, with the need to ensure that future processes minimise burden to institutions within the HE system and maximise use of public funds to improve fair access and widen participation.

HEFCE’s continued commitment to widening participation

7. Opportunity is one of the three core principles identified in our strategic statement, ‘Opportunity, choice and excellence in higher education’ (HEFCE 2011/22), and this guides the approach to our activity within, and our expectations of, the higher education system. Paragraphs 10 and 11 state:

‘Widening participation… is vital in creating a fairer society, securing improvements in social mobility and supporting economic growth.… A diverse student population is essential to vibrant intellectual enquiry and a resilient knowledge economy. It encourages a higher education offer that is socially and culturally diverse, and more representative of local communities. The availability of local provision, including through further education colleges, will continue to be very important. It is also essential that the principle of opportunity extends to postgraduate taught programmes and research students, and that study in England remains open to overseas students at all levels’.

8. Our grant letter from the Secretary of State also confirmed that continuing priority should be given to widening participation in our funding decisions for 2012-13 and this is reflected in our recent resource allocations. Phase two of the consultation on student number controls and teaching funding recognises the continued importance of widening participation through our proposals for a Student Opportunity allocation to be delivered from 2013-14.

9. Our funding for widening participation underpins all aspects of institutions’ work to deliver their widening participation aims and objectives, by ensuring that they have a strong foundation and infrastructure from which their activity can be delivered. We have encouraged the embedding of widening participation into the core strategic aims and approaches of institutions so that students can benefit from inclusive approaches that support the success of all, while being sufficiently responsive to individual needs.

10. National progress to widen participation depends very much on the long-term, strategic approaches developed and implemented by institutions that look beyond the immediate, individual targets set within access agreements. We believe that all institutions need to not only meet their targets (where they have an access agreement) but to enhance the national picture; our funding contributes to making this possible. Such approaches might include support for greater access, attainment and successful outcomes for students across the student life-cycle: from outreach and pre-entry activity through to progression into further study or employment. They can often work beyond the boundaries of the individual institution to involve collaborative approaches across the educational sectors. Such collaborations can seek to influence the cultures and processes of all partners to broaden horizons, encourage higher attainment levels and facilitate progression into and through higher education for both young and mature learners.

Scope of the interim widening participation strategic statement

11. Since the interim statement covers a year of transition for the HE system, we do not expect institutions to provide clear long-term strategic aims and objectives for their approaches to widening participation. However, we expect institutions to be able to indicate their key priorities for 2012-13 on widening participation activity, and how the funding they receive from HEFCE for widening participation and improving retention will support delivery of those priorities.

12. We expect the interim statements to include consideration of how institutions might expect their longer-term approaches for widening participation to change (if at all) from those outlined in their 2009 WPSAs.

13. We also ask institutions to provide the following information in their interim statements:

  1. Widening participation priorities for 2012-13.
  2. How HEFCE funding for widening participation (which includes the widening access for full-time, part-time and disabled students allocations; and the teaching enhancement and student success (TESS) allocation) will help deliver those priorities.
  3. Added value of the HEFCE allocation (such as to leverage funds from other sources, enabling outreach work to be undertaken that might not directly benefit own institution).
  4. How the institution anticipates being able to adequately evaluate the effectiveness of its approach and provide satisfactory accountability for the funding it receives for this purpose from HEFCE.
  5. Information on how institutions might use the WP allocation to sustain collaborative/partnership approaches and support their equality and diversity objectives.
  6. A summary of, or provision of a web link to, the institution’s policy for fair admissions.

14. For institutions with access agreements, we appreciate that much of the information requested in paragraph 13 may already be contained in those agreements. Where this is the case, institutions may simply reference the relevant section of the access agreement in the interim statement rather than provide duplicate information.

15. It is important to note that for 2012-13 we are not requesting a great deal of detail. We have set no maximum or minimum length, to make our requirements as compatible and adaptable to institutional circumstances as possible. Although we want to know what institutions’ key priorities are, we do not require a breakdown of activities to be delivered. Similarly, although we wish to know in broad terms how the funding we provide will support the stated priorities, we do not require detailed costings against activity. We will continue to collect this more detailed information through the annual joint monitoring exercise with OFFA, and anticipate that this process for 2012-13 will remain largely unchanged from the current one. As mentioned in paragraph 4, our longer-term strategic information requirements will be determined through the development of the shared strategy with OFFA. Guidance will be issued next year for three-year WP strategic statements to cover the period 2013-14 to 2016-17.

16. The longer-term strategy documents we will request from 2013-14 will need to provide a framework of accountability for the funding that HEFCE will continue to deliver for widening participation and student success through its proposed Student Opportunity allocation. These documents will need to articulate institutions’ strategic aims and objectives for WP over the three years, taking into account commitments in access agreements and the National Scholarship Programme and outline how institutions intend to measure progress and demonstrate the impact of their WP activity and approaches. They will need to consider target groups at both the undergraduate and postgraduate3 levels, and describe how the investments made in WP from a range of sources contribute to the delivery of long-term successful outcomes throughout the student life-cycle. They should also seek to describe how institutions are working with their students to further develop and deliver their widening participation strategy. Further guidance on the submission of long-term WP strategies will be issued in early 2013.

17. When developing the interim statement institutions are encouraged to refer to the following HEFCE and OFFA publications:

  1. ‘Student number controls and teaching funding: Consultation on arrangements for 2013-14 and beyond' (HEFCE 2012/04). We would draw particular attention to our proposals for the student opportunity allocation in paragraphs 264 to 282.
  2. ‘National Scholarship Programme 2013-14: provisional allocations and guidance for institutions’ (HEFCE 2012/09).
  3. ‘How to produce an access agreement for 2013-14’ (OFFA 2012/03).

Other developments

18. Institutions’ access agreements are published by OFFA once approved. Therefore, information we request for the strategic statements that is included in access agreements is also put into the public domain. We wish to extend this approach so that widening participation strategic statements are publicly available, and we encourage all institutions to publish their 2012-13 interim statements on their web-sites. We are considering whether the expectation should ultimately be that we will publish all statements on our web-site or encourage institutions to publish themselves.

19. We are considering adjusting the criteria against which we determine which institutions should submit widening participation strategic statements in 2013-14. For the current WPSAs and the interim statement requested for 2012-13, the threshold for inclusion is that an institution has (or expects to have) over 100 FTE directly HEFCE-fundable student numbers. From 2013-14 it is likely that this will change so that all institutions in receipt of the proposed Student Opportunity allocation, regardless of how many HE student numbers they have, will need to produce a widening participation strategic statement.

20. From 2013-14 OFFA has asked institutions to set out the extent to which they have consulted with prospective and current students in developing their access agreements. The National Union of Students has also encouraged local student unions to engage in widening participation activity within their own institutions. We encourage institutions to extend this activity by indicating what steps they have taken to consult with prospective and current students on the development of their widening participation strategic statement.

Review of interim widening participation strategic statements

21. We will review all interim widening participation strategic statements to understand how institutions are responding to the changing HE environment and to inform the shared strategy for widening participation we are developing with OFFA. We will not formally sign off submissions; however we will write to institutions to acknowledge submission. If we require any clarification of the information provided we will aim to contact institutions by the end of August 2012.

Action required

22. All higher education institutions and those further education colleges that expect to have over 100 FTE directly HEFCE-fundable student numbers should submit an interim widening participation strategic statement. These institutions should submit their interim widening participation statement via the HEFCE extranet by Friday 22 June 2012. Details on how to access the extranet will be sent to heads of institutions, WP and access agreement contacts during the week commencing 23 April 2012. Submission of an interim widening participation statement will remain a condition of the continued receipt of the HEFCE widening participation allocation.

23. We appreciate that institutions’ interim widening participation statements, access agreements and approach to the delivery of the National Scholarship Programme are integral to one another. As suggested in paragraph 14, we expect access agreements to be referenced in the interim statements to avoid duplication. For this reason, institutions may want to take the interim statements through their assurance and governance procedures at the same time as their access agreements, even though the new access agreements will be for the following academic year (2013-14). To allow greater flexibility to institutions, the submission deadline for the interim WP statement has been set at three weeks after the deadline for access agreements.

Further information

24. For further information on the guidance in this letter, contact Richard Smith on 0117 931 7151, e-mail r.smith@hefce.ac.uk.

25. For information on OFFA access agreements, contact Jessica Woodsford on 0117 931 7097, e-mail jessica.woodsford@offa.org.uk.

26. For information on our consultation on student number controls and teaching funding, contact your HEFCE institutional team (see our searchable list of contacts).

27. For information on the National Scholarship Programme, contact Rachael Tooth on 0117 9317410, e-mail nsp@hefce.ac.uk.

28. Frequently asked questions about the interim widening participation strategic statements are available.

Yours sincerely

Sir Alan Langlands
Chief Executive


Notes

  1. ‘Student number controls and teaching funding: Consultation on arrangements for 2013-14 and beyond’ (HEFCE 2012/04).
  2. Higher Education Funding 2012-13, Grant letter to HEFCE from Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills, 25 January 2012.
  3. We are currently gathering evidence to improve our understanding of the purpose and characteristics of, and outcomes from, postgraduate study, with the intention of reviewing postgraduate participation following the changes to undergraduate funding. We are particularly concerned to understand postgraduate participation in the context of widening participation and will wish to gather information through the 2013-14 strategic documents on how institutions address student diversity within their postgraduate provision.

Date: 19 April 2012

Ref: Circular letter 11/2012

To: Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions, Heads of HEFCE-funded further education colleges

Of interest to those
responsible for:

Senior management, widening participation, learning, teaching and the student experience, admissions, finance, access agreements

Enquiries should be directed to:

Richard Smith, tel 0117 931 7151, e-mail r.smith@hefce.ac.uk