Widening Participation, University Outreach and Fair Access – what do they mean and why do teachers need to know about them?
What is university widening participation?
Also known as "WP", this refers to the government’s long-term education policy to increase the numbers of participants entering Higher Education (HE). Specific emphasis is on targeting groups with traditionally lower-participation rates, but which include students with the potential to benefit from HE. Target groups include those from low-income backgrounds, low-progression areas, first generation entrants, certain ethnic groups, disabled learners, mature and part-time learners as well as care leavers.
With the aim of removing barriers to HE, universities receive funding from various government sources to enable them to develop and deliver WP initiatives with schools and other agencies.
One of the main focuses of university WP work will be ‘outreach’ activity. WP is also concerned with improving retention and student success for those going through university, ensuring successful transitions to further study or graduate employment, and providing financial support through bursaries or scholarships.
Okay, so what is University outreach?
Outreach refers to a range of activity undertaken by universities targeting WP audiences that are underrepresented in HE.
Outreach activity aims to raise awareness and understanding of HE, as well as aspiration and attainment, in order to encourage more WP audiences to consider HE as a viable and realistic option. Activities may include summer schools, taster days, campus visits, reading schemes, as well as mentoring and tutoring programmes using student ambassadors.
How about Fair access - what is it? How is fair access different?
Fair access is about ensuring equality of opportunity regarding progression to HE, most specifically for those students from under-represented groups.
All universities are required to promote fair access through their admissions procedures. Where admissions from WP groups are still unacceptably low, some universities offer specific schemes to promote fair access.
All universities charging over £6,000 in tuition fees must have an approved Access Agreement. Access agreements are specifically intended to ensure fair access to higher education, and must provide details of their outreach work, as well as details about their financial provision for disadvantaged students.