Access and participation plans

What are access and participation plans?

Access and participation plans set out how higher education providers will improve equality of opportunity for underrepresented groups to access, succeed in and progress from higher education.

They include:

  • the provider’s ambition for change
  • what it plans to do to achieve that change
  • the targets it has set
  • the investment it will make to deliver the plan.
Find an access and participation plan or access agreement

If providers want to charge higher tuition fees, their plans must be approved by the Director for Fair Access and Participation. If they do not have this approval, they may not charge fees above £6,000-£6,165 per year (the exact threshold varies according to their Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework rating).

Having an approved access and participation plan is also a requirement of registration with the OfS for certain categories of provider.

From academic year 2019-20, access and participation plans replace access agreements approved by the Director for Fair Access to Higher Education as published by the Office for Fair Access (OFFA).

Access and participation plans are submitted annually and the provisions included relate to the academic year for which it is approved; for example 2019-20 access and participation plans relate to the 2019-20 academic year. However, the fees and commitments made to entrants in each plan remain in force for the duration of that cohort’s studies.

For example, students who start their courses in 2019-20 will be covered by their provider’s access and participation plan throughout their studies. Providers will normally have several plans running concurrently at any one time, relating to different years of entry.

Access agreements approved by the Director for Fair Access for academic years up to and including 2018-19 remain in force for students covered by those agreements. Fees and commitments in these agreements will be regulated by the OfS.

Having an access and participation plan is a requirement of registration in the OfS’s Regulatory Framework for providers of higher education in England that charge above the basic tuition fee cap. This requirement is identified as Condition A1 of the Regulatory Framework.

Higher education providers will need to produce an access and participation plan for 2019-20 if they are:

  • a higher education provider in England

and

  • applying to be registered in the Approved (fee cap) category of the Register

and

  • intending to charge fees above the basic amount for qualifying students on any qualifying course in 2019-20.

Providers who do not need an access and participation plan but are, or wish to become, an OfS-registered provider need to produce and publish an access and participation statement.

See details on access and participation statements 

We’ve published guidance documents to support providers in the preparation of access and participation plans. These include:

You’ll also need to submit a resource plan using an Excel template which will form part of the evidence we consider.

If you want to apply for a 2019-20 access and participation plan, please contact [email protected] for further information and to receive your resource plan template.

We expect that providers will involve students as active cocreators in developing, implementing and evaluating providers’ access, success and progression work. We’d normally expect providers to consult their student body through their students’ union or student representatives.

If you’re a student representative, we encourage you to comment on their consultation and involvement in your provider’s access and participation work.

More information for students’ unions or representatives can be found in ‘Regulatory Advice 6: Good practice advice on the preparation of access and participation plans for 2019-20’.

Students who started their higher education course in 2018-19 or earlier will be covered by their provider’s access agreement approved by the Director for Fair Access.

These agreements will continue to be regulated by the OfS and there’s a database of all access agreements currently in force

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