Skip to main content

Birkbeck praised for outreach activities and support throughout the ‘student lifecycle’

Birkbeck’s outreach activities have been applauded by the Office for Fair Access

Birkbeck’s innovative outreach activities and assistance for non-traditional students have been applauded by the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) – the fair access watchdog for universities in England.

OFFA highlighted Birkbeck’s achievements in a press release accompanying the publication of OFFA’s 2013-14 annual report and accounts. Only three other universities were also chosen as being exemplars of best practice.

Professor Les Ebdon, Director of Fair Access to Higher Education, wrote in OFFA’s annual report, which was submitted to Parliament on Monday, that OFFA is encouraging universities and colleges to do more to engage across the ‘whole student lifecycle.’ The ‘whole student lifecycle’ approach involves engaging from an early stage with prospective students to raise aspirations and attainment, and then supporting these students during their studies to stay on course, achieve an appropriate qualification, and go on to graduate-level employment or further study.

Birkbeck’s commitment to widening participation in higher education was emphasised in its access agreement for 2014-15, which was submitted to OFFA and referred to in OFFA’s press release.

Birkbeck runs community outreach activities to encourage non-traditional learners to join its flexible and part-time courses. The College works to prepare them for advanced study, and offers a range of on-course support including help with study skills for those who have been out of formal education for some time. In 2014-15, Birkbeck expects to provide a record-breaking total financial support package of £3.6m, including 1,300 cash bursaries of £1,000 and 600 fee waivers worth £3,000 each.

Tricia King, Pro-Vice-Master Student Engagement and Recruitment at Birkbeck, said: “We are delighted that Birkbeck’s efforts to encourage non-traditional students and help them succeed have been recognised by OFFA. Widening participation is at the heart of Birkbeck’s mission and for nearly 200 years we have been at the cutting edge of innovation around access and social mobility through education. We will continue to do our utmost to attract and retain students and ensure that their studies help transform their lives.”

Championing part-time study

In OFFA’s annual report, which was submitted to Parliament on Monday, Professor Ebdon also writes of his concern over continuing low numbers of part-time students, which remains a key issue because part-time study offers life-changing opportunities.

Professor Ebdon wrote: “The vast majority of the fall has been in non-first-degree courses including foundation courses or diplomas. Such courses are an important route into degree study for people from under-represented groups – giving a ‘second chance’ to those who have low or no entry qualifications and giving those already in employment the opportunity to reskill or upskill.”

The latest Birkbeck Briefing refers to Birkbeck’s resilience and the successful growth of its new intensive courses following the downturn in part-time student numbers caused by the major changes to university funding in 2012.

Committed to widening participation

The approval of Birkbeck’s access agreement for 2015-16 was announced on 24 July. As part of the generous package approved by OFFA, Birkbeck’s students will benefit from a total of £4m in financial support, which will be disbursed to students based on their income, from under £25,000 (full-time and part-time students) to under £40,000 (for part-time students). The fund is expected to enable many low- and middle-income students to undertake part-time study.

An approved access agreement means that institutions can charge more than £6,000 per year in tuition fees. In 2015-16, Birkbeck will spend one-third of its higher fee income on outreach activities and support for widening participation. This percentage is in keeping with many universities in the UK.

More news about: