Reporter 423, 21 September 1998

University responds to widening participation

HEFCE has released further details of its strategy for widening participation in higher education (Consultation Paper 98/39) and for promoting high quality teaching and learning (CP 98/40). The University’s responses to these consultations will be discussed at ADC and Senate over the next months.

The University is already developing a comprehensive strategy that addresses both HEFCE and Dearing concerns on Life Long Learning. It was successful in last year’s funding round for widening participation. The Office of Part-time Education also received European project funding for its innovative OPTIMISE programme aimed at unemployed single parents and carers. Far reaching proposals relating to both Life Long Learning and to a Corporate Learning programme to underpin the university’s interface with industry and commerce will be brought to Academic Development Committee early in the first term. And Leeds is playing an active role in the development of a regional strategy led by YHUA.

HEFCE is particularly concerned that there should be consolidation of effort on widening participation. People with disabilities and those from poor backgrounds continue to be under-represented. HEFCE research shows that young people from the wealthiest neighbourhoods are 12 times more likely to enter higher education than those from the poorest areas. This is a particularly acute issue in Yorkshire, which is the region with the greatest net inflow of students in the UK.

£30 million of mainstream funding for additional student places will reward HEIs that have widened participation, and encourage them to target specific groups - disabled students, those from poor backgrounds, and those who missed out on HE opportunities on leaving school. Funds allocated via competitive bidding will build partnerships between HEIs, schools and especially further education colleges in order to improve the success rates of previously disadvantaged students in the region.

HEFCE’s also aims to raise the profile and status of teaching. A new teaching quality enhancement fund aims to enhance practice, reward high quality, and encourage improvement. There are also 35,000 additional student numbers in 1999-2000 for those higher education institutions (HEIs) which can demonstrate high quality provision. The Council intends to invite bids from HEIs that demonstrate high quality provision and success in widening participation.

An innovative aspect of the proposals is at the individual academic level. The Council is proposing to invite bids from HEIs for awards to support individual academics in enhancing learning and teaching, and to recognise individual excellence. As with grants for research, such awards would provide time for staff to develop teaching materials, textbooks and technology applications; to improve delivery methods; and to develop curriculum and assessment practice.