Widening access report released

Photo: Sammi McKee
Photo: Sammi McKee
Photo: Sammi McKee

According to a new report backed by British universities, educational institutions should place a greater emphasis on spotting talent and encouraging white working-class men in order to widen access to higher education.

The report was requested by the government in order to establish what measures needed to be taken to ensure greater access to higher education.

It found that “socio-economic disadvantage has more persistent and far-reaching impact on access to and outcomes from higher education” than any other single cause. It further stated that 18-year-olds from the most advantaged groups were more than six times more likely to attend highly selective institutions than those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The report has received criticism due to the fact that it offers few concrete suggestions on how to remedy the situation.

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK and a chair of the advisory group, said: “The evidence provides a stark reminder of the work that still needs to be done to improve social mobility. Disadvantage is deeply entrenched in our society, and there are no quick and easy answers.

“Universities are absolutely committed to promoting social mobility and are undertaking extensive and ambitious work. Our report concludes that we need to carry on doing this work, but with more evaluation, more focus on advice and guidance to students, and better collaboration with schools and employers, and with government.”

Charlotte Andrew, President of the Students’ Association said: “The University, and the education sector in general, should always be looking to achieve more in the area of widening access. During my first few months as President, I have been pleased to see the emphasis the University places upon access and outreach schemes.”

One of the report’s recommendations asserts that universities need to make “greater use of contextual data to inform offer making,” meaning they should take into account the socio-economic backgrounds and schooling of applicants. The report further recommends that this “may also require wider use of contextual admissions processes in which universities identify an applicant’s potential as well as their prior attainment in determining admissions.” While many universities use some forms of contextual data in admissions decisions, widespread use has been resisted among selective universities.

The report concludes that “evidence suggests there should be a particular focus on access for white working-class men,” although it acknowledges that the admission rates for white working-class women and those from mixed ethnic backgrounds are not much better.

Jo Johnson, the University’s minister, said: “We are seeing record numbers of disadvantaged young people going to university and benefiting from the real opportunities that our world-class universities can offer.

“But, as this report makes clear, there is still more to do. That is why I welcome this important piece of work from Universities UK and also why we are legislating for a new transparency duty which will place a clear requirement on all universities to release more information about their admissions process and real incentives on all institutions to go further and faster to promote social mobility.”


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