What is university
When you hear the term ‘Widening
Participation’ or ‘WP’ for short, it vaguely
speaks for itself, but there is a lot more to the
widening of participation into higher education.
In a nutshell, WP focuses on underrepresented
groups of society that either won’t or don’t
want to go on to higher education. The
reasons could be purely down to a lack of
knowledge and support, but also, unfortunately,
because of the stigma attached to that
characteristic, either by society or personally.
Fair Access on the other hand, is the fairness
attributed to the admissions process for
someone accessing higher education.
Who are university widening participation programmes for?
You may have already worked with WP
teams at various universities and be aware
of some WP characteristics. It is important
to know these characteristics, to ensure that
no student misses out on opportunities or
potential support. Understanding WP and
having conversations with higher education
institutions could help to uncover an
underrepresented student within your school or
college. A well-known group that WP focuses
on are students in receipt of free school meals,
usually from a low income family and with a
low socioeconomic status.
Young people that live in disadvantaged areas
are five to six times less likely to progress to
higher education than those that live in the
more advantaged areas (UCAS, End of Cycle
Report, 2018), so it is no wonder these groups
are targeted within WP schemes.
The lesser-known underrepresented groups (all
showing a lower participation rate to higher
education) are those from minority ethnic
groups, mature students, disabled students and anyone that is care experienced/a care
leaver. There are also groups which have
similar equality gaps and are therefore
defined as underrepresented, including carers,
estranged students, travellers, refugees and
What kind of university widening participation or fair access schemes are available?
So, what is in place at universities to ensure
that these underrepresented groups get the
extra support they need to access university?
Perhaps the most important thing to note
here, is something called the ‘Access and
Participation Plan’ (APP). Monitored by the
Office for Students, these plans set up how
universities will improve equality in not only
accessing university through outreach targets,
but also adhering to success and progress
throughout their university journey.
How can schools and college colleagues take part in university widening participation programmes?
Every university differs in their approach and
their targets, but their outreach offerings for
underrepresented groups will always include
Information, Advice and Guidance (IAG)
sessions, course specific workshops (now
both in person and virtually), campus visits,
experience days, open days and project-based
events. Universities will have their own fair
access admissions opportunities too, such as
contextualised offers and various accessible
programmes if entry requirements or work
experience criteria aren’t met.
Every university that has an APP will have a
dedicated person or team to deliver the WP
and fair access agenda. There will be specific
programmes and events for certain students
identified, which is why it is important for you
to discover these students so that any barriers
they may find in accessing university can
hopefully be removed by WP teams.
I would encourage anyone to contact
university WP and Access teams to ask about
engagement opportunities and be sure to sign
up to any newsletters to remain up to date. We
are here to provide your students with the best
advice to break down those barriers and to
start the journey in accessing higher education,
so use us!