University Tips Blog
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A headshot image of the author, Stephen Pomfret

by Stephen Pomfret

Head of Make Happen (Uni Connect)

posted on 4 Apr '22

University event targeting – why are certain events only available for certain students?

The targeting of outreach activity has been a topic of conversation and debate for as long as outreach has existed. Should we work with all students or should we target?

University event targeting – the background

The Office for Students have often favoured a targeted approach, with many Access and Participation Plans identifying key student groups, as well as programmes like Uni Connect focusing on a specific demographic. This targeting is designed to help reduce differences in progression to higher education based on socio-economic differences or student demographics.

The differing experiences in the education system, and society more generally, are leading to certain student groups progressing at significantly higher rates than others. Across all English higher education providers over 30% of entrants in 2019-20 were from areas of the country with the highest progression rates, compared to 12% from those with the lowest. The rate of progression to higher education for those with experience of the care system has been reported as low as 6%. The gaps in progression rates have been largely stable for a number of years.

Gaps in progression rates still exist when you compare students with similar grades but varying socio-economic backgrounds. Many of these groups of targeted students face significant challenges in their day to day lives whether that is estranged students, those with a disability or students from areas of high deprivation.

There are a variety of student groups each with unique challenges and the research into how this affects their progression to higher education continues to grow. Whilst this research base increases, it is important that we do all we can to try to reduce these gaps and level the playing field as much as we can.

The inequality of information access

By restricting activity to certain groups of students we are trying to reduce inequality of access to information. By allowing all students to benefit from activity we slow, or eradicate, the intended effect of reducing the gaps within student groups. This is especially important for high cost or limited capacity events, by prioritising those groups with lower progression we aim to reduce the disparity that has been caused by other external factors.

Many of the student groups that are often targeted may have barriers to accessing information, if you are the first in your family to go to university then you will have less exposure to it. Those from areas of low progression will not see as many role models in their community who have progressed to university and succeeded. These factors can often be confounded by headlines in the press, especially around factors such as student finance or career prospects. This is why many programmes will seek to work with parents and carers as well to help myth bust some common misconceptions about university.

In an ideal world there would be no need for targeted activity or widening access work as all students would have the information to make an informed choice. Unfortunately we are not there yet, targeting will continue to be an element of widening access work to try and help all students access the information that they need to make informed decisions.

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