Reporter 421, 27 May 1998

Widening the world of HE

Some of the best practice in widening access to higher education was discussed at a seminar attended by academics and policymakers throughout the sector at the University’s School of Continuing Education earlier this month.

One of four being held across the UK, the seminar debated an interim report from the research project Good Practice in Widening Access, which is due to report this autumn.

The project was launched in January 1988, with a questionnaire to all UK universities seeking information about successful strategies for recruiting 18-21 year olds from lower socio-economic groups.

Key features of 58 case studies were drawn together from the 88 responses, sixteen of which will be investigated in further depth. Project director Maggie Woodrow, executive director of the European Access Network, said research was already producing results.

“We’re asking awkward questions of a lot of people. Several have already said no, we’re not doing that, but perhaps we should be. It’s prompted many to look again at their policies on under-representation by young people from lower socio-economic groups.”

HEFCE head of teaching and learning policy Cliff Allan said: “We’d like to encourage institutions to improve participation rates of non-traditional students and provide funds to those who have successful strategies to continue, maintain and develop these strategies.

“We want to see overall improvements in the system and universities engaging in social inclusion. There is an issue of standards, but we’d like to see ways of measuring the ability of students other than A levels.

“It’s not about every institution transforming itself, but we would like to reward those who are doing well and encourage those who are not.”

Project funders include the CVCP and the Higher Education Funding Councils. The University’s Director of Continuing Education Development, Professor Richard Taylor, is on the steering group.

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