Conclusions and recommendations |
1. Although the gap is narrowing, more than
twice the proportion of people from upper socio-economic backgrounds
go into higher education than those from lower socio-economic
groups. The participation
of young full-time students from lower socio-economic backgrounds
has improved slightly, by two percentage points over the last
four years. Nevertheless, although this group make up around a
half of the population of England, they still only represent just
29% of young full-time first entrants to higher education.
2. The Department for Innovation, Universities
and Skills and the Higher Education Funding Council know too
little about how universities have used the £392 million
allocated to them over the last five years to widen participation.
The requirement for universities to report annually on their widening
participation activities is being reintroduced. It will be important
that the information provided is sufficiently detailed and comprehensive
so that universities' progress in widening participation is clear
and transparent. The Funding Council and Office for Fair Access
should use such information to help spread good practice and hold
universities to account if they do not meet their commitments.
3. Guidance for young people on how to progress
into higher education is often of variable quality and not provided
face-to-face. Poor advice and guidance
can lead to potential students making the wrong choices about
which subjects to study, making unrealistic applications or not
applying at all. The Department for Innovation, Universities and
Skills and the Department for Children, Schools and Families should
jointly provide teachers, particularly those offering careers
advice, with up-to-date guidance on the financial support available
for students and the academic requirements for chosen career paths.
4. In 2006-07, some 12,000 students did not
apply for a bursary, although many were likely to have met the
necessary criteria. While information
on financial assistance is available from a range of sources,
it is not easily accessible or understood. The Department should
develop a single source of information to enable potential students
to identify easily the bursaries and grants for which they may
5. Although performance at school is a strong
predictor of entry to higher education and is influenced by a
number of factors, early contact with universities can help overcome
some young people's reservations about higher education.
While more young people living in deprived areas are now going
to university, they are, as a group, still less likely to obtain
good GCSEs and progress to higher education than those not living
in deprived areas. University mentoring of secondary school pupils
living in deprived areas, primary school networks and pre-entry
programmes can help raise the ambitions of young people. These
initiatives and others need to be much more widespread than at
present if more people from deprived areas are to benefit.
6. Despite the potential benefits for their
pupils, some schools in England do not have links to a university
and do not access widening participation activities.
The Funding Council has issued guidance for universities on the
targeting of activities, but there is limited regional or national
oversight to ensure that all schools are targeted adequately.
The Department and the Funding Council should, jointly with the
Department for Children, Schools and Families, review the coverage
of widening participation activities and encourage every school
to establish regular contact with at least one university.
7. Many universities, particularly those in
the Russell Group, perform poorly in admitting students from under-represented
groups. The existing funding formula is
not designed to provide incentives for universities to widen participation.
The Funding Council should agree specific improvement plans for
those universities performing consistently poorly, and should
encourage better performing universities to share good practice
with those that are less successful.
8. Data collected by universities and UCAS
on the characteristics of the student population is incomplete.
Although data is collected nationally, it is incomplete, particularly
for part-time students and in relation to the socio-economic background
of full-time students. In addition, little is known about the
extent to which disabled students and people from care participate
in higher education. The Funding Council should research the participation
of such groups, and develop and promote the use of measures which
best capture participation rates, such as pupil data linked with
higher education records.