The Office for Fair Access (OFFA) has laid out new guidelines asking universities and colleges to do more long-term work to help send underprivileged students to university, encouraging higher education institutions to target children as young as seven.
The access agreements for the academic year 2014-15 from universities and colleges which charge more than £6,000 in tuition fees will need to include evidence regarding how they plan to reach more children and potential mature students in areas where few consider university. Without these agreements universities will be unable to charge more than the basic fee for tuition.
In a press release the Director of OFFA, Professor Les Ebdon stated that "while work with teenagers is very useful and should continue, we are keen to see more long-term schemes that start at a younger age and persist through the school year." Prof. Ebdon suggested that activities such as "summer schools, masterclasses and mentoring" would be encouraged.
It is not clear how these guidelines may affect the numbers of school leavers going on to apprenticeships or jobs rather than university, however many organisations and universities have supported Prof. Ebdon's document. A spokesman for Cambridge University told The Cambridge Student: "The University has received OFFA's advice on preparing the 2014-15 Access Agreement, and looks forward to working with OFFA on our new access agreement." The guidelines suggest, as has often been argued by Russell Group universities, that it is not discrimination at university level which hinders young people, but poor advice and attainment at school.
President of the NUS, Liam Burns, in talking to The Guardian argued that "outreach programmes can be very helpful in widening access, but it is no good getting students into institutions if they can't afford to pay their living costs when they're there, and have to drop out as a result". With more money being spent to conform to the new guidelines and OFFA encouraging universities to sponsor free schools and academies, some question whether this may hinder poorer students when they get to university.
Currently all English universities are charging more than £6,000 in tuition fees and so will have to reconsider how they will prepare their access agreements for 2014-15. However, with emphasis to be placed on children as young as seven, it will take a number of years before it will be possible to assess the impact of these guidelines.
Georgina Spittle - News Reporter