FYN letter to Office for Students regarding Augar review

The following is the text of a letter addressed to Sir Michael Barber (Chair, OfS) on 26th June by the Chair of the Foundation Year Network.  The letter was sent on behalf of the FYN Executive Committee and requests that the Office for Students convene, without delay, a working group to consider recommendation 3.8 of the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding. Copies have also been sent to key representatives at OfS, UUK, NUS, UCU and AoC.
The executive will provide an update on any responses to FYN members at our annual conference at the University of Sussex on 10 – 11th July 2019


I write on behalf of the Executive Committee of the Foundation Year Network to request that the Office for Students convene, without delay, a working group to consider recommendation 3.8 of the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding to ‘withdraw financial support for foundation years attached to degree courses after an appropriate notice period’ (May 2019: 104) [see note 1].  


The network suggests that this working group includes representatives from key stakeholders within higher education (UUK, NUS and UCU) and at least one representative from the further education sector [2].  


The aims of the working group should include:


  • to gather and collate existing and new data which is sufficient to describe the diversity of Foundation Year (HE foundation level 0) and Access to HE diploma (FHEQ level 3) programmes currently available across the HE and FE sectors [3];


  • to ensure this dataset is appropriately contextualised and capable of meaningful comparative analysis with respect to the access, progression and achievement of students enrolled on the full range of foundation and access programmes;


  • to analyse and interpret this diverse evidence-base in context, with due regard to OfS’s duty to promote ‘value for money’ [4];


  • to examine and understand the role that foundation years play in the wider context of support for disadvantaged students accessing HE, including students entering HE with lower (or no) FHEQ level 3 attainment [5].


The network welcomes the spotlight which the post-18 review report has shone on foundation year provision [6].  It acknowledges the important role which FECs and Access to HE diplomas have to play as elements of an effective access, success and progression strategy designed to provide support for students from all backgrounds with the ability and desire to undertake higher education [7].  The network also recognises that there may be individual examples of ‘poorer value for money’ across the sector [8].  


Nevertheless, the network believes that the review panel was not just simplistic but was entirely unjustified in moving from a state of ‘surprise’ about how many students have actively chosen Foundation Years over ‘cheaper’ Access to HE diplomas in the past few years, to a suggestion that universities are using foundation years to ‘entice’ students to enrol, to a recommendation that financial support for FY should be withdrawn for all but ‘exceptional cases’ [9].  If this recommendation were to be implemented without proper evaluation and consideration, it risks destroying through one arbitrary action ten years of steady progress in widening access to HE for a range of disadvantaged and under-represented groups [10].


The panel appears to base their recommendation upon one single piece of data analysis released by OfS on 13th May this year [11].  The network has already identified a range of ways in which these data are insufficient to support the precipitate conclusion which the review makes [12].  Furthermore, the network believes that a full costing of all aspects of students’ learning provision and resultant degree outcomes would demonstrate that many foundation years represent better ‘value for money’ for students (and taxpayers) than other potential pathways.  


The network believes therefore that, contrary to the review’s evident suspicions, increasing numbers of students have chosen to enrol upon degrees with integrated foundation years not because they were ‘enticed’, but rather because they saw these as their most effective pathway to success.  Furthermore, where meaningful analysis demonstrates that this is not the case, the network will be the first to recommend the redistribution of funding in more effective ways.


The network agrees with OfS’s chief executive, Nicola Dandridge, that it is not inevitable that higher proportions of students recruited from disadvantaged backgrounds will drop out of university, or that ‘access for disadvantaged students, and good outcomes, are a zero-sum game’ [13]. Indeed, it is the very life-blood of many foundation year programmes to seek to support and enhance success rates amongst this cohort of students. 


HESA data clearly demonstrates that providers of foundation years have made very significant progress over the past decade in improving the proportion of students progressing to L4 in the following year within their registered HEI (up from 52.2% in 2006/7 to 64.9% in 2016/17). Furthermore, the proportion of students continuing in HE more generally (up from 75.9% in 2006/7 to 83.7% in 2016/17) suggests that foundation year providers have on average been closing the ‘progression gap’ every year by approximately 0.7% per year since 2006/7 [14].


Nonetheless, working with foundation year (or indeed with access to HE) students is neither easy nor cheap.  It requires significant and sustained resourcing to enable providers to further narrow the progression and attainment gaps for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. 


Network members have developed a rich body of experience and expertise over the past forty years delivering foundation year provision in one form or another [15].  The network therefore requests that any working group receives input from those practitioners best placed to advise on how to gather meaningful data which can inform effective evidence-based decision-making.  The network is ready to recommend practitioners who can advise on data and practice within a representative sample of foundation year provision-types across the sector [16]. The network would also suggest that representatives from QAA Access Validating Agencies and/or FEC providers should be invited to provide equivalent advice in relation to Access to HE diploma provision.


The Foundation Year Network has previously offered to provide further evidence and input to the Welsh Government’s consultation on support for foundation years in 2016 [17], to UCU’s proposed research into foundation years (HE Sector Conference 2018) and to Dame Shirley Pearce’s independent review of TEF earlier this year [18].


The network now extends that same offer to the Office for Students and urges you to convene a working group as soon as possible to consider the recommendations of the post-18 review as these pertain to foundation years and to access more generally.


We will also be delighted to welcome representatives of OfS to the network’s conference at the University of Sussex on 10/11 July 2019.


Yours sincerely,


Dr Willy Kitchen


Foundation Year Network




  1. The Foundation Year Network is a practitioner-led network of 350 members, working across more than 60 HEIs in England and Wales.  The network was originally set up with the support of the Higher Education Academy and has organised an annual conference every year since 2007. It was formally constituted as an unincorporated association in 2014 (see https://foundationyear.ac.uk/for further background).
  2. Copies of this letter are being sent by email to Nicola Dandridge (OfS Chief Executive), Chris Millward (OfS Director for Fair Access and Participation); Dame Janet Beer (UUK President), Alistair Jarvis (UUK Chief Executive), Shakira Martin (NUS President), Jo Grady (UCU General Secretary Elect), Matt Waddup (UCU National Head of Policy and Campaigns) and David Hughes (AoC Chief Executive)
  3. There is a very rich diversity of foundation year provision across the sector, ranging across the full breadth of HE subject areas (arts, health, humanities, social sciences, STEM).  These programmes attract a huge diversity of learners, with cohorts typically containing significantly higher proportion of learners from disadvantaged and under-represented groups (BAME, mature, disabled, POLAR Q1, IMD Q1 etc.) than is the institutional norm at other levels of study.
  4. All good foundation year provision is designed and delivered with local institutional context, programme aims and outcomes, and the needs of specific cohorts of students in mind. It is essential therefore that any assessment of value is undertaken ‘in the round’, taking full account of local and comparative rates of access, continuation, progression and achievement rates, students’ qualifications and experience at point of entry, and what this means for ‘learning gain’.
  5. In this respect, recommendation 3.8 of the review cannot and should not be taken in isolation from the two recommendations which precede it in the Augar report (recommendations 3.6 and 3.7).
  6. The network’s stated objects are to represent, promote and support: good practice in foundation year (FY) provision; the academic and scholarly activities of FY practitioners; CPD opportunities for FY practitioners; and diversity of provision for entry into HE.  This final object is of particular importance to the network since we recognise that no one HEI is the same, and that different HE programmes often favour different forms of preparation (whether in school, FECs or HEIs themselves).
  7. Several network members have (or continue to) teach on Access to HE diploma programmes; some act as external verifiers for Access programmes; many of our FY programmes and institutions have over many years pursued effective partnership working with local FECs in relation to curriculum development and delivery (both FY and Access programmes), advice and guidance for current and prospective students, and outreach activities designed to raise aspirations and awareness. It is simply wrong, therefore, for the post-18 review report to imply that there is no appetite for collaboration between HEIs and FECs in circumstances where this is both appropriate and achievable.
  8. Network members take their responsibility to foundation year students extremely seriously. The network has long had a concern to track and monitor student continuation, progression and achievement rates, with many conference papers over the years presenting local data on this and related subjects (both at the FYN conference itself and at other Learning and Teaching conferences across the sector).  An increasing amount of time has been set aside at recent conferences and network seminars to discussing good practice in relation to ‘ethical recruitment’ and ‘ethical retention’ practices (see, for example, Priede and Vessey, 23 October 2018, https://foundationyear.ac.uk/foundation-year-admissions-a-case-for-a-collaborative-approach/).  
  9. Review of Post-18 Education and Funding, pp.103-4. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/805127/Review_of_post_18_education_and_funding.pdf
  10. Early responses to the review recommendations highlighting particularly concerns about recommendation 3.8 include:

Nick Hillman (THES, 30May19) https://www.timeshighereducation.com/opinion/augar-review-could-be-watershed-moment

David Kernohan (Wonke analysis, 6Jun19)https://wonkhe.com/blogs/why-abolish-the-foundation-year/

Julie Hulme (Personal blog, 7Jun19) https://higherpsyched.home.blog/2019/06/07/augar-augers-badly-for-foundation-years/

UCU (Augar review response, June19) https://www.ucu.org.uk/media/10290/The-Augar-review—where-UCU-stands-Jun-19/pdf/The_Augar_Review___Where_UCU_stands.pdf

  1. OfS (13 May 2019) Preparing for degree study: analysis of access to HE diplomas and integrated foundation year courses. https://www.officeforstudents.org.uk/publications/preparing-for-degree-study/
  2. At the network’s annual conference this year, hosted at the University of Sussex on 10-11 July 2019, Adam Finlayson from OfS will lead a session in which he will present aspects of the data. The network is grateful for the opportunity this allows to commence a much more detailed dialogue about the provision and framing of data pertaining to FY provision across the sector.  See also https://foundationyear.ac.uk/foundation-year-network-initial-response-to-augar-review/
  3. Nicola Dandridge (The Times, 18Jun19) https://www.officeforstudents.org.uk/news-blog-and-events/press-and-media/nicola-dandridge-fair-access-and-good-outcomes-are-not-a-zero-sum-game/
  4. Data based upon analysis of HESA continuation matrices (tables SN4 and NC2). See Kitchen, W.  Unpublished  FYN workshop presentation.  University of Sussex, 26th April 2019.  Copies available upon request.
  5. The current suite of full- and part-time degrees with foundation year at the University of Sheffield, for example, are the direct (and continuous) descendants of the Mature Access Programme first delivered within the University’s Division of Adult Continuing Education in 1976.
  6. Network members are employed by HEIs from right across the spectrum of university ‘mission groups’. See also note 3 above.
  7. https://gov.wales/sites/default/files/consultations/2018-01/161219-annex-responses-en.pdf(see pp.47-53 for full network response).
  8. https://foundationyear.ac.uk/fyn-executive-response-to-the-tef-review-call-for-views/


End of notes.

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