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Fair Access, fees and finances: Bristol's submission to OFFA

19 April 2011

An update from the Vice-Chancellor with regard to the University's submission to the Office for Fair Access.

Widening Participation

Our first Widening Participation strategy was published in 1999. We want to have the most diverse student body possible for two main reasons. Firstly, we believe that people with talent and potential can be found in all parts of our society and we have a duty to enable such individuals to come to Bristol. Secondly, educational research shows that students receive a fuller education when with peers from a broad range of backgrounds. This should be no surprise – students educate each other.

Outreach and Retention

In order to fulfil the above ambition, we will increase our investment in outreach measures to over £2m a year by 2015/16. Activities will include collaborative working with other universities to support generic widening of participation in higher education, programmes focused on recruiting students to Bristol (such as our Access to Bristol scheme and the national Realising Opportunities programme), and schemes designed to support students from application right through to acceptance and admission.

We have set annual progress measures in the proposal that reflect our aim to increase participation at Bristol from a wide range of groups. We are aiming to attract students with high ability and potential from:

  • low-performing schools/colleges;
  • low-participation areas;
  • socio-economic groups 4-7;
  • students from minority ethnic backgrounds.

We also wish to increase our numbers of local, mature and disabled students.

We recognise that students from these backgrounds can often face the greatest challenge in making the transition to university. We will significantly increase our investment in activities to support those students both academically and socially whilst they are here. We will invest up to £1m per annum by 2015/16.


We believe the level of fee itself presents a psychological barrier to those students who come from households on the lowest income levels.  This is something which we have been very keen to address via our submission to OFFA.

There is some debate about the real level of annual household income. The Institute of Fiscal Studies reported that 66 per cent of UK households had a net annual income of £25,000 or less. Against this background, the University is proposing a scale of tuition fees, ranging from £3,500 to £9,000 a year, dependent on household income. The loans for these fees would be payable only after graduating and once a salary threshold of £21,000 has been exceeded. 

The University’s proposed core Financial Support Package for 2012/13 entry for all courses is:

  • A tuition fee of £3,500 per annum for all students whose residual household income is £15,000 or below. These students will incur no more financial obligations than they would under the current financial arrangements.
  • A tuition fee of £4,500 per annum for all students whose residual household income is £20,000 or below.
  • A tuition fee of £6,000 per annum for all students whose residual household income is £25,000 or below.

In addition, we will offer an enhanced financial support package to students who have participated in our Access to Bristol scheme. This will deliver:

  • A full tuition fee waiver and an annual maintenance bursary valued at £3,750 for those Access to Bristol ‘graduates’ who have a residual household income of £25,000 or below. Taking into account Government maintenance grants, these students should be able to complete their studies at Bristol without incurring any financial obligations in respect of either tuition or maintenance costs.

We also propose to increase the level of our hardship funds to a total of £350,000 per annum to safeguard those students who may find themselves in financial difficulty whilst at university.

The fee level for students whose residual family income exceeds £25,000 per year will be £9,000 per year.

Taking all of our proposed outreach and financial support activities into account, we will be reinvesting around 35 per cent of any additional fee income we receive above £6,000. This will represent an approximate investment of £12m per year in 'steady state', ie from 2015/16 onwards.


Our calculations show that we would need to charge a fee in the region of £8,000 a year just to make up for the cuts in the core teaching grant and capital allocations. Our student support package described above will add a further £1,000 a year to this. Thus our decision to charge up to £9,000 per year does not represent a sudden or substantial increase in our funding; it merely substitutes lost revenue from other sources.

There will be further detail to consider around our fees proposal and its implementation for the academic year 2012/13 and colleagues are engaged in this process currently.  Further communication will follow in due course.

A great deal of thought has gone into these proposals. We believe that they are constructed to give the very best support to those who find it most difficult to access all the advantages that an undergraduate education at Bristol can confer. This is combined with a breadth of support that will aid the majority of households.


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