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A response to this letter is required by Monday 16 December 2013.

Dear Vice-Chancellor or Principal

National Scholarship Programme 2014-15, including implications for those institutions with ‘core and margin’ places

1. This letter is aimed at institutions that participate in the National Scholarship Programme (NSP). The government allocation of public money for the 2014-15 NSP has been reduced to £50 million from the level previously announced. The rules relating to the use of the funds have been amended accordingly, including a reduction in the minimum permissible value of awards to students and the limit which can be given as cash. Revised provisional allocations for each institution can be found at Annex C. A response to this letter is required by Monday 16 December 2013.

2. Action required:

  1. Revised intentions templates must be submitted by midday on Monday 16 December (all institutions that participate in the NSP).
  2. Revisions to access agreements must be made by midday on Monday 16 December (all institutions with access agreements with the Office for Fair Access).

Annex A shows how to submit your revised intentions template and guidance for revising access agreements can be found at http://www.offa.org.uk/guidance-notes/.

3. If you are participating in the NSP, you will know that we released provisional allocations for 2014-15 in March 2013, and asked your NSP contact to complete a template telling us how you intended to design and allocate your awards for eligible recipients. Where the higher fee is being charged, you also included these plans in your 2014-15 access agreements which were approved by the Office for Fair Access (OFFA).

4. 2014-15 is the final year of the programme. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has announced that the government allocation for the NSP will be reduced from £150 million to £50 million for 2014-15.

5. BIS has issued a statement, which can be found in full at Annex D. An excerpt follows:

‘In the Spending Review this summer, we announced our intention to end the undergraduate National Scholarship Programme (NSP) after 2014-15.  That decision was based on evaluation which has shown that there are more valuable ways of widening access and enlarging the choices students make about higher education through the negotiated access agreements of universities. In the last three years the funding of access has greatly increased and we are now able to deploy these resources to greater effect. By bringing forward from 2015-16 the planned reduction of £100 million in funding for the NSP we are able to redirect £25 million to establish a new network to support collaborative outreach. 

‘The National Scholarship Programme will remain in place for 2014-15, targeting £50 million from Government towards students in most need of help.  Universities will also continue to support NSP awards in the final year of the scheme, in addition to offering other bursaries and scholarships to their students.

‘To make the programme more flexible for students in this transition year, we have removed the £1,000 limit on the amount of the award that can be given in the form of cash.  We have also reduced the minimum level of award for full time students to £2,000, which means that 100,000 students could still receive an award, in line with our original estimate.’

6. The implications of this announcement are as follows.

The government allocation and minimum value of awards

7. The government allocation of funding for the NSP will reduce to £50 million. BIS has confirmed that the minimum value of any award will reduce to £2,000 for full-time students (pro rata for part-time students). This means that, despite the reduction in the government allocation, a larger number of students can be supported through the programme than if the minimum award were maintained at £3,000.

8. Attached with this circular letter at Annex C are revised provisional allocations which show your institution’s new government allocation. As we will still need to take account of data from the Higher Education Students Early Statistics and Higher Education in Further Education: Students surveys to ensure the NSP budget is divided equitably across the sector, we will release final NSP allocations for 2014-15 in February 2014, which will again be based on the reduced government allocation.

Managing your allocation

9. Although the government allocation has reduced, the rules of the programme remain largely the same as stated in ‘National Scholarship Programme 2014-15: Provisional allocations and guidance for institutions’ (HEFCE 2013/02). There are, however, two important exceptions:

  1. The minimum bursary has changed from £3,000 to £2,000.
  2. There is now no limit to the amount of funding which can be awarded as cash.

10. It will be important that you look at the planned arrangements for your 2014-15 scheme to understand how you will manage the change announced by BIS. You may choose to deliver the NSP in a different way – for example, shifting the emphasis from accommodation discounts to fee waivers. Institutions with access agreements that offer matched funding may, for example, wish to change the level of funding for each award, or to deliver more of the award in year one rather than spreading it over several years of study. Your revised approach must continue to follow the rules of the programme and withstand challenge.

11. Where you have promised support in later years of study for the 2012-13 and 2013-14 NSP cohorts, you will be expected to meet these obligations with the same type of support and at the same level as previously advised.

12. So that we can capture sector-wide intentions and check that any revisions to your plans are within programme rules, HEFCE requires each participating institution to submit an updated intentions template which takes account of the reduction in the government allocation and sets out your intended delivery method and estimated number of recipients. Guidance to help you make this return is at Annex A. All institutions must upload this return by midday on Monday 16 December 2013. This timing is dictated by the timing of the government announcement and the need for students to be able to make changed decisions by the UCAS deadline of Wednesday 15 January 2014.

For those institutions with access agreements: matched funding

13. Following the announcement of changes to the NSP for 2014-15, all institutions with access agreements must confirm their financial support and eligibility thresholds with OFFA by midday on Monday 16 December 2013. Revisions will ensure that, as published documents, access agreements are up-to-date and reflect the support that will actually be given to eligible students. OFFA has issued more detailed guidance available at http://www.offa.org.uk/guidance-notes/ on the parameters and process for revisions to access agreements.

14. Annex C gives your new reduced allocation of funding and the minimum number of awards which must be delivered. As before, all of the government allocation must be awarded to undergraduates in their first year of study. In line with the rules of the programme, you may use your matched funding to:

  • increase the number of awards given (by giving to more recipients at £2,000 or above)
  • increase the value of the award to individual students (for example, in the first year of study or spread through later years).

15. We expect institutions to maintain the total levels of matched funding with which they each originally planned to support the programme, which were set out in access agreements and NSP intentions templates. If, in its original intentions template submitted in April 2013, your institution provided additional matched funding or said that it would redirect a proportion of spending towards other activities, you will be expected to maintain this expenditure as part of your access agreement commitments.

16. You should submit a return to HEFCE alongside your return to OFFA by midday on Monday 16 December to reassure us that you recognise the lower level of government funding now involved, and plan to deliver your awards within the rules of the programme. See Annex A for how to do this.

Interaction with average fee levels and ‘core and margin’ allocations

17. Lifting the limit on cash and revisiting your packages of financial support may impact on the average fee level for the 2014-15 cohort (but not earlier entry cohorts). If this happens, it will affect compliance with the conditions of any student places allocated to you through the 2012-13 and/or 2013-14 core and margin processes. If you were allocated places in either or both exercises, this factor should be considered in your response to this announcement.

18. Average fee levels will continue to be monitored by HEFCE. We will assess (using the updated data you submit through your intentions template and other HEFCE data returns, and data you submit to OFFA) the impact of the changes outlined in this letter on the average fee levels at institutions awarded core and margin places. For institutions whose fee level rises above the level which informed the allocation, and where it is clear that this solely due to the changes to the NSP, we will seek to be helpful. We will discuss with individual institutions how this will be taken into consideration in the fee monitoring process, on which we will issue further guidance in due course. Increases in average fees that cannot be attributed to these changes to the NSP are likely to continue to be considered a breach of the core and margin conditions.

For those institutions charging below £6,000 and without access agreements

19. In line with our original guidance, institutions charging below the higher level fee level of £6,000, will not have an access agreement for 2014-15, and are therefore not required to match-fund their NSP allocation.

20. We will expect these institutions to remain in the programme for 2014-15 and make NSP awards to meet their new government allocation.

21. You may wish to change the form of the award but all participating institutions, regardless of whether they change their intentions, should submit a return to HEFCE by midday on Monday 16 December 2013 to reassure us that they recognise the lower level of government funding now involved, and plan to deliver their awards within the rules of the programme.

22. If you would like to discuss opting out of the programme, and you have not marketed the NSP to 2014-15 applicants, please e-mail nsp@hefce.ac.uk to discuss this.

Communication to students

23. Changes to NSP awards may affect the choices that some applicants make. We are concerned that applicants should not be disadvantaged by these changes and should have sufficient time, ahead of the UCAS deadline of January 15, to review their application choices and change them if they are dissatisfied with the changes to an institution’s financial support.

24. UCAS will issue a statement through its next applicant bulletin, webpages and social media notifying all its applicants of the change. We expect this announcement to be made in the week commencing Monday 25 November. This high-level announcement will link to a notice from Government which will be hosted on the HEFCE web-site. A copy of this notice is attached at Annex B.

25. Institutions must ensure that they contact all of their direct applicants – meaning those not applying through the UCAS system – to advise them of the change to the NSP. We encourage institutions to use the government notice at Annex B as the basis of their communication with direct applicants, to ensure consistency of information for all applicants.

26. Students will be advised via these notices that they should be able to access the revised financial packages at midday on Monday 16 December 2013. You should ensure that your web pages and any other literature are updated, and that student finance advisers are well briefed to advise applicants accordingly by this date.

Monitoring and evaluation

27. The monitoring schedule for the NSP programme remains unchanged.

Year of NSP

In-year monitoring submission

End-of-year monitoring submission

(alongside Widening Participation Strategic Assessment and access agreement monitoring)

2012-13

January 2013 (completed)

January 2014

2013-14

January 2014

January 2015

2014-15

January 2015

January 2016 (end of programme reconciliation)

28. We will continue with the formative evaluation of the NSP, because our view remains that this work will contribute to the evidence base relating to student and financial support. We are grateful to staff and students in institutions for continuing to engage with this evaluation.

A new network to support widening access

29. HEFCE welcomes the announcement that BIS will make an investment of £25 million in 2014-15 to support collaborative outreach to schools, colleges, employers and communities.

30. The funding is for one year. We will consider how this funding ‘pulse’ can best support regional co-ordination whilst meeting the broader aims of the National Strategy for Access and Student Success which we and OFFA have recently delivered to BIS. We will work closely with the sector by taking soundings early in 2014 so that we can best channel the investment to produce long-lasting change.  We aim to give institutions as clear a view as possible about the likely shape of the investment so that they can take some account of it in planning their Strategies for Access and Student Success.  

Next steps

28 November

Announcement by BIS of changes to NSP for 2014-15.

28 November

HEFCE circular letter to sector outlining NSP process.

28 November

OFFA issues guidance on submitting revised access agreements for 2014-15.

Midday 28 November

UCAS issues statement advising all applicants of the changes to scheme, linking to a notice from Government which will be hosted on the HEFCE web-site. Institutions contact all of their direct applicants (those not applying through UCAS) to advise them of the changes to the scheme.

Monday 16 December

Deadline for submissions of revised intentions templates to HEFCE and revised access agreements to OFFA.

By midday Monday 16 December

Institutions should publish their revised student support packages and be prepared to advise students accordingly.

31. If you have any questions, please contact the specialist advisers listed under ‘Enquiries should be directed to’ below.

Yours sincerely

Steve Egan

Interim Chief Executive

Date: 28 November 2013

Ref: Circular letter 32/2013

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

Of interest to those
responsible for:

Widening participation, Planning, Finance and Student Services, National Scholarship Programme contacts

Enquiries should be directed to:

National Scholarship Programme: Samantha Dyer, tel 0117 931 7410, e-mail nsp@hefce.ac.uk
Average fee: Rob Stroud, tel 0117 931 7499 e-mail snc@hefce.ac.uk
Office for Fair Access: Patrick Winch, tel 0117 931 7171, e-mail enquiries@offa.org.uk
Extranet and intentions returns: Hannah Simmons, tel 0117 931 7273, e-mail h.simmons@hefce.ac.uk