University Tips Blog
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A headshot image of the author, Claire Churchill

by Claire Churchill

Deputy Head of Outreach at the University of Birmingham

posted on 10 Jan '24

A guide to university fair access and widening participation

Understanding higher education can be challenging – there are acronyms to learn, dates to remember, forms to complete and events to attend. This can be especially difficult for students, and their parents or carers, who come from under-represented groups within higher education.

This includes students who:
• are in the first generation of their family to go to university
• have low household incomes
• live in areas where fewer young people progress to university
• attend schools that perform below the national average
• have experienced time in care
• are young carers
• have a disability.

The Office for Students (OFS) – which regulates the work of universities – states an aim to ensure that ‘...all students, from all backgrounds, with the ability and desire to undertake higher education, are supported to access, succeed in, and progress from higher education’. Therefore, many universities put support in place to help students from these backgrounds overcome any barriers they face.

As parents or carers, if you feel that your young person might be eligible for additional support, you can signpost them to the following opportunities:

Pre-entry support

Widening participation programmes such as summer schools and other intensive outreach events. These support fair access by giving students an insight into university life and study.

Students will need to meet eligibility criteria in order to take part, so look carefully at these before applying. Participants may also receive additional benefits such as mentoring, support with the transition to higher education or access to reduced or alternate offers.

Contextual offers

Most universities will take a student’s personal circumstances into account when they consider an application and will review how these circumstances may impact their achievement. Contextual offers are often a grade reduction below the typical entry requirements for a course. They may be offered automatically to students meeting specific criteria or may need to be applied for separately – students can find out more on university websites.

Post-entry support

• Enhanced funding: Your young person may be eligible to receive enhanced funding to support them at university. Again, it is worth checking university websites for what might be on offer and the eligibility criteria.

• Academic support: Students from under-represented backgrounds may be entitled to additional support at university, such as peer mentoring, 1:1 guidance or enhanced careers programmes. What is available to students will vary from university to university, so it is worth researching what would be most beneficial for your young person.

Overall, universities want to ensure that there is fair access to their programmes, and parents and carers play an important role in helping students access this support. We don’t expect you to know all the answers, so do reach out to universities for specific guidance.

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