Universities pledge to work with schools to widen access to HE

23 Aug 17

Every university in England has now committed to working with schools from 2018-19 to improve access to higher education, the Office for Fair Access has said.

OFFA has for the first time made working with schools to raise attainment for disadvantaged pupils a condition of access agreement approval, on which the levels of tuition fees universities can charge depends.

Its annual summary of access agreements found they all included plans to work with schools to raise attainment among disadvantaged pupils and overcome barriers created by their circumstances.

Measures involved included sponsoring schools, establishing university technical colleges, long-term outreach work and training teachers and school managers.

Professor Les Ebdon, director of fair access to higher education, said: “Universities and colleges often tell me that they cannot improve access as fast as they want to, because they do not receive enough applications from young people with the right grades.

“My response was to challenge them to help fix this. I told [them] they must help schools to address low attainment among disadvantaged pupils, or they would not have their access agreements approved and the level of tuition fees they could charge would be severely limited as a result.”

Ebdon said he was pleased with universities’ response, which would be monitored annually.

Other features of the new round of agreements included attempts to increase access to higher education among white men from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds, who OFFA said were “one of the most under-represented groups in higher education”.

There would also be greater efforts to prevent black and minority ethnic students from achieving lower degree grades and employment than white students with similar attainment.

Institutions pledged increased activity to improve access among mature and part-time learners, following a large drop in numbers of these students in recent years.

Responding to OFFA’s summary, Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, said: “All UK universities are working hard to widen participation and support disadvantaged students throughout their time at university.

“It is right to expect a continued focus on support for disadvantaged students to make further progress in closing the gap between different student groups. Universities are working to better identify what support has the most impact and ensure that interventions are built on a strong evidence-based approach to boost social mobility.”

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