News archive 2004
First Director of Fair Access appointed18 Oct 2004, PR 66/04
The Secretary of State for Education and Skills, Charles Clarke today announced the appointment of Professor Sir Martin Harris as the Director of Fair Access to Higher Education.
(DfES Press Release)
Martin Harris was previously the vice-chancellor at the University of Manchester and will take up the appointment immediately.
The Director’s role will be central to the drive to widen participation and was created under the Higher Education Act 2004. Any institution that intends to charge tuition fees above the standard level (above £1200 and up to £3000) will need an Access Agreement approved by the Director. Access Agreements will set out:
- Institutions’ fees for courses up to the maximum allowed of £3,000;
- Institutions’ plans for bursaries and other financial support for students;
- Any plans for outreach work to encourage more potential students from under-represented groups to consider higher education;
- Plans to provide information to prospective students on available funding; and
- Institutions’ own milestones, set by themselves, which will help them and OFFA monitor whether their efforts to improve access are succeeding.
- OFFA will have no remit over the admissions arrangements of universities. Admissions are and will remain a matter for the universities themselves as set out in the HE Act 2004.
Charles Clarke said:
“I am delighted that Martin Harris has agreed to become the first Director of Fair Access. It is important to ensure people with talent get the opportunity to go to university if they choose to do so. The Office for Fair Access will, by working with universities, play an important role in enabling this to happen.
"The Director will make sure that every institution charging higher fees will have the quality bursaries, outreach work and financial guidance in place to help encourage greater applications from under-represented groups. The Director will not have a remit over university admissions. Admissions are and will remain a matter for universities themselves.
"Some universities have already announced bursaries of up to £4,000 since the announcement to create OFFA. That means that some low income students will receive almost £7,000 in non-repayable support each year. This is good news and I hope others follow suit.
"The Director of Fair Access may be an essential position but I know universities are as passionate about widening participation as I am. That is why I expect there to be a healthy relationship between Institutions and the Director. I would consider it to be a success if the Director never had to rely on his sanctioning powers during his term in office."
Martin Harris, Director of Fair Access said:
“I am delighted to accept this new post and look forward to working with the sector to ensure fair access for all students, in particular, those from groups currently under-represented in higher education.
“I fully share the Secretary of State's view that there should be a continuing drive to widen participation. However, the introduction of variable tuition fees is inevitably a time of change for institutions. Whilst one of my key aims in this new post will be to implement a process for setting up access agreements to safeguard fair access, I hope as Director to do this by working as collaboratively as possible with institutions and in doing so I will respect the Secretary of State's wish not to add to their bureaucratic burden. My past experience working in the sector has led me to understand and respect institutional autonomy and it is on this basis that I look forward to working with the sector.”
“I will be spending the next few weeks preparing for my new role, and will be making contact with the sector as soon as possible with guidance for producing Access Agreements.”
Notes to editors
This press notice relates to 'England'
1. The Office for Fair Access (OFFA) is an independent, non-departmental public body which aims to promote and safeguard fair access to higher education for under-represented groups in light of the introduction of variable tuition fees in 2006/7. OFFA will regulate the charging of higher than standard level tuition fees for home, full-time, undergraduate students. For more information visit www.offa.org.uk
2. The position of the Director of Fair Access to Higher Education, in whom the legal powers of OFFA are vested, was created under section 31 of the Higher Education Act 2004
3. A copy of the Secretary of State’s guidance letter to the Director of the Office for Fair Access can be found at:
4. Professor Sir Martin Harris was Vice-Chancellor of the University of Manchester from 1992 until 2004 and was previously Vice-Chancellor at Essex University. From 1983-87, he served on the University Grants Committee and in 1995-96 he chaired a major review of graduate education in England and Wales (the Harris Report). He became Chairman of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals (CVCP), now Universities UK, in August 1997 after two years as Vice-Chairman, and was founding Chair of the North West Universities Association from 1999-2001. In 2000 he chaired a national review of university careers services for the Department for Education and Skills. He was appointed Chairman of the Clinical Standards Advisory Group in 1996 and from 1999-2002 was a Commissioner for Health Improvement. He is a Director of Universities Superannuation Scheme Limited and in 2002 was appointed Deputy Chair of the North West Development Agency. He was knighted in the Millennium Honours List.
5. The Government will provide grants of up to £2700 for the lowest income students from households earning £15,201 or less. OFFA will ensure that any institution charging tuition fees of £3000 provides bursaries of at least £300 to these students. This means that a low income student going to a university which charges £3000 will get at least £3000 in non-repayable support. Some universities have already announced their intention to offer bursaries of up to £4000 per year. This means that some low income students will receive almost £7000 in non-repayable support each year.
6. Institutions must have an Access Agreement, approved by the Director, before they can charge higher variable fees. The Director can also impose sanctions on any institution that breaches its own Access Agreement. In the event of a serious breach OFFA may refuse to renew an institution’s Access Agreement or impose a direct financial penalty. An institution’s failure to meet milestones is not in itself grounds for any kind of sanction. It is however expected that institutions will themselves want to review their progress against their own milestones when an Access Agreement comes up for renewal.
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