Dear Vice-Chancellor or Principal
Introduction and summary
1. This circular letter:
- Advises institutions of a change to our plans to request widening participation strategic statements (WPSSs) in 2013. Instead of asking for WPSSs to cover the period 2013-14 to 2016-17, we ask institutions to review and update the interim WPSS they submitted for 2012-13, by Monday 8 April 2013.
- Sets out plans to integrate Office for Fair Access (OFFA) access agreements with HEFCE’s WPSSs to reduce duplication and burden.
2. In a change to previously stated requirements, HEFCE now requests that institutions extend their interim WPSSs (which cover 2012-13) for a further year to cover 2013-14. This is rather than submit full strategies as advised in previous communications. Further details on the information we need from institutions are set out in paragraphs 9-12.
3. We requested an interim WPSS from all higher education institutions, and from those further education colleges that had – or expected to have – over 100 FTE directly HEFCE-fundable student numbers in 2012-13. Institutions which were not required to submit an interim WPSS for 2012-13 need take no action at present, because there will be significant changes from 2014-15.
4. In early 2014 HEFCE and OFFA will produce joint guidance to request submission of an integrated document that brings together the existing WPSSs and access agreements. The integrated document will initially cover OFFA requirements for 2015-16 and HEFCE requirements for 2014-17. Institutions not required to submit an access agreement will need to submit a document covering HEFCE requirements. Further details are available in paragraphs 14-19.
5. HEFCE and OFFA will continue to monitor access agreements, the National Scholarship Programme (NSP), and widening participation (WP) activity annually. In autumn 2013 we will issue guidance on how to complete our monitoring return for access agreements, the NSP and WP activity for 2012-13, and in-year monitoring of the NSP for 2013-14, for submission in January 2014.
Extending 2012-13 interim widening participation strategic statements
6. Institutions originally submitted three-year widening participation strategic assessments (WPSAs) in 2009 that were due for renewal in 2012. In April 2012, HEFCE Circular letter 11/2012 informed institutions that we would delay our request for full strategies for one year, and asked institutions to submit a short, one-year interim WPSS covering the 2012-13 academic year instead. We indicated that full strategies would be requested in spring 2013 to cover the 2013-14 to 2016-17 academic years.
7. In May 2012, Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, and David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, wrote to HEFCE and OFFA requesting that we develop a shared strategy for access. They asked us to ‘look strategically across investment streams, to ensure we achieve synergy and maximise the outcomes for students’. They emphasised the importance of basing this joint work on evidence of what works in widening access at home and abroad. We wrote to Ministers in October to welcome this guidance, and set out how HEFCE and OFFA will work to deliver a national strategy for access and student success in higher education. The Ministers have since replied to ask us to deliver the strategy by autumn 20131.
8. If we had continued with our original plan to request full, three-year WPSSs in spring 2013, we would have been asking institutions to set their strategic priorities for WP before they knew what priorities the national strategy would establish. We are therefore asking them to extend their interim WPSS instead.
9. Each institution that submitted an interim WPSS to HEFCE for 2012-13 should review its WPSS, considering the latest information it has about its 2012-13 student profile. Institutions should then e-mail HEFCE by Monday 8 April 2013 (see paragraph 11) to either:
- confirm that there have been no significant changes to the approach set out in their interim WPSS, or
- briefly advise us of any significant or material changes to their overall approach to widening participation and what has led to this decision.
10. We encourage institutions to review their interim WPSS in conjunction with the development of their NSP award criteria and OFFA 2014-15 access agreement, as appropriate. Guidance on both the NSP and OFFA’s 2014-15 access agreements are due to be published on 17 January, both to have the same deadline for response of 8 April.
11. Institutions should e-mail us with the information requested in paragraph 9 at email@example.com. Please include in the subject of the e-mail the name of your institution and the phrase ‘interim WPSS 2013-14’. We are happy to accept a response in either the body of the e-mail itself or as an attachment, provided it is sent from the e-mail account of a senior member of staff, for example a deputy vice-chancellor with responsibility for widening participation.
12. Institutions should note that, if they submitted an interim WPSS for 2012-13, extension or updating of this document is a condition of the receipt of HEFCE’s Student Opportunity allocation.
13. Although this request to extend 2012-13 interim WPSSs only applies to those institutions that submitted an interim WPSS for 2012-13 (see paragraph 3), we expect to adjust the criteria from 2014-15 so that all institutions in receipt of the Student Opportunity allocation will be required to submit an integrated document, including those that have fewer than 100 FTE HE students, and those that do not have an access agreement.
Integrated access agreements and widening participation strategic statements
14. Part of the work to develop the national strategy for access and student success is to align better the HEFCE and OFFA processes. We believe it also presents an opportunity to provide other benefits to institutions. HEFCE and OFFA are therefore developing guidance for an integrated document which aims to not only integrate WPSSs and access agreements into one submission that meets the requirements of both organisations (thereby reducing burden for institutions), but that is also useful to institutions in other ways.
15. The integrated document will aim to create a single, coherent framework within which institutions are able to set their strategies, commitments and targets for widening access and student success. The new process will also provide a framework against which institutions can evidence their work and commitment, and within which HEFCE and OFFA can effectively monitor and evaluate institutional and sector-wide progress.
16. The integrated document will initially cover OFFA requirements for 2015-16 and HEFCE requirements for 2014-17. Moving forward we hope to introduce a flexible process of renewal and review of particular sections of the integrated document.
17. We aim to publish guidance for the integrated document in early 2014. The guidance will be developed in parallel with the national strategy. We will work in partnership with institutions and other key sector stakeholders to ensure the new processes will be useful and developmental for institutions. Our aim is to support institutions to develop clearly articulated strategies which provide a basis for robust evaluation and monitoring.
18. Institutions which do not have an access agreement will also be covered by the 2014 guidance, and will need to submit a document covering HEFCE requirements.
19. The way the NSP is funded and delivered may change in the future. If this is the case, the implications of any such changes for the integrated document will be fully considered in the context of the national strategy.
20. We have updated information on our web-site to provide further context about the development of our policy on WPSSs over the last few years.
21. Institutions that submitted a 2012-13 interim WPSS should e-mail HEFCE at firstname.lastname@example.org by Monday 8 April 2013 either to confirm that they are maintaining planned work as set out in their 2012-13 document, or to set out changes as requested in paragraphs 9‑12.
22. Note that in early 2014 HEFCE and OFFA will issue joint guidance requesting submission of an integrated document, which will bring together the existing WPSSs and access agreements (see paragraphs 14-19).
Sir Alan Langlands