University Tips Blog
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A headshot image of the author, Sophia Mousoulides

by Sophia Mousoulides

Partnership Manager (Pre-16) at the University of East London

posted on 21 Mar '21

A school and college guide to university widening participation and fair access, access and participation plans, university activities and more...

More young people from all backgrounds are going to university – however there is still inequality in higher education and beyond. Students with certain characteristics are less likely to enter higher education, less likely to stay on, and/or less likely to gain highly skilled employment after completing their degree.

What the research is telling us

White students on Free School Meals are the least likely group to enter higher education, followed by those from Gipsy/Roma backgrounds (Working Class Heroes – Understanding access to higher education for white students from lower socio- economic backgrounds. NEON, 2019). There is also a significant difference in the proportion of Black, Asian and minority students awarded a good (First or 2:1) undergraduate degree when compared to White students (Office for Students, July 2020).

Introducing the Access and Participation Plan

Access to university, drop-out rates, attainment and post degree outcomes for underrepresented groups will vary by institution, but there are significant gaps in comparison to the general student population. To resolve these gaps, each higher education institution charging the higher level tuition fees has an Access and Participation Plan (APP). The APP takes into account the gaps that are most salient for the institution and specifies targets in order to tackle inequalities, not only for the institution, but also higher education as a whole. Within the APP are targets set against various stages of the student life cycle, i.e. access to university, continuation (not dropping out), attainment and progression into higher study or highly skilled employment.

In line with their APP, different universities will tackle gaps in different ways, but ultimately they are aiming for the same outcomes that you want for your students; to ensure that every young person is able to make the most of their potential and to remove barriers to success. This is where schools can work with universities to achieve the best outcomes. For the “Access” part of the APPs, it is important that university Widening Participation and/or Access teams work closely and consistently with students before they arrive at enrolment age.

Activities through universities

Meaningful and stage appropriate activities are on offer to schools and colleges to ensure that young people are familiar with higher education and able to make informed decisions about their futures. Research conducted by UCAS indicates that having university as a goal from age ten or earlier makes a significant contribution to future success. There is also evidence that the earlier young people understand the opportunities available through higher education, the more likely they are to be motivated to apply (Through the lens of students: how perceptions of higher education influence applicants’ choices. UCAS, July 2016).

I would recommend that teachers take up these activities at a number of different institutions, choosing those that suit the needs of your learners - but also to show students different universities. No two are the same; some will offer a broader range of subjects, some will be geared up to a more hands-on approach to learning.

Don’t be afraid to speak to Widening Participation / Access teams about what works for your students. As teachers, you can offer an insight into what they need to know and skills they need to build. Our job is to be as effective as possible in ensuring barriers to access, progression, attainment and success are removed.

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