University Tips Blog
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by Laura Whitelock

Access and Outreach Officer at the University of York

posted on 15 Nov '23

Fair access and widening participation at university – what does it mean and what is on offer?

Higher education institutions are eager to support fair access and widening participation initiatives to ensure our learning communities are inclusive, safe and welcoming spaces for all students, no matter their background.

With that in mind, many institutions will support key groups of students, which will usually include students who are the most underrepresented at their institutions, or students who are generally underrepresented within higher education institutions in the UK.

What does underrepresented within higher education actually mean?

This means students who are statistically less likely to progress to higher education are the key target audience for widening access programmes. Often institutions will break this down using eligibility criteria. Many of the criteria points focus on students from lower socio-economic backgrounds, or underrepresented communities.

Who is eligible to receive support?

The most common thread is that you usually need to have attended a state school or college for your secondary and post-16 education.

Aside from this, students eligible for support may include:
• First-generation students (students who are the first generation in their immediate family to attend higher education)
• Care experienced and estranged students (students who have spent time in local authority care or are estranged from their family)
• Young carers (students who have caring responsibilities)
• Ethnic minority students (for example Black, Asian, Arab, or mixed-race backgrounds)
• Mature students (students aged 21 or above at the start of their undergraduate studies)
• Refugee and asylum seekers
• Students from Gypsy, Roma or Traveller communities
• Students with a disability or long-term health condition (including mental health conditions)
• Students from military or service families
• Students living in areas with a low progression rate (you can check your postcode online)
• Students with a household income below £42,875
• Students eligible for free school meals, pupil premium or other discretionary payments
• Students who attended a school or college that achieved below the national average (based on Government statistics).

It is worth noting that different institutions will likely have different eligibility criteria and even some programmes at the same institution may focus on different groups of students.

For example, at the University of York we have Black Access , which is a programme designed by our current Black students to support fellow Black students, but we also have post-16 programmes such as Next Step York, accepting students from most of the above criteria as indicated in the bullet points.

What support do students meeting this criteria quality for?

This can vary between institutions, but may include:
• Reduced offer schemes (where students can receive an offer lower than the standard entry requirements - for example, AAA could become AAB or even ABB)
• Access to scholarships or bursaries (money provided by the institution to support students with study or accommodation costs, which does not need to be repaid)
• Mentoring (often with current students at the institution)
• The opportunity to attend tailored events and activities with the institution (such as campus tours, residential events, or online skills sessions)
• Ongoing support (regular contact relating to key milestones, for example making post-18 decisions, completing personal statements, applying for student finance, and much more).

Accessing support

Look at institutions’ websites to check their eligibility criteria.

Develop your understanding of widening participation programmes by researching institutions. It can be helpful to receive updates from institutions directly, or through general communications, such as UniTasterDays.

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