Dr Luke Heselwood, Report Author and Reform Researcher

The higher education sector has received considerable attention this week. The Institute of Fiscal Studies’ (IfS) report on the impact of undergraduate degrees on early-career earnings and Reform’s research on access to elite universities for disadvantaged students are two such examples.

As the IfS have highlighted, a student’s pre-university characteristics, such as socio-economic status, can have an impact on future earnings. However, as Reform’s research shows, it can be difficult for some disadvantaged students to access top universities in the first place. 

Ensuring that all students, regardless of background, can access the best universities is one possible step that could help to improve the future success of undergraduates.

With the IfS’s focus on progress after university, and Reform’s focus on access to university, both reports reflect key elements of the Office for Students’ (OfS) regulatory objectives.

The OfS aims to help all students, regardless of background, to access, succeed and progress in higher education. In other words, the regulator wants to ensure that higher education providers are helping students access university, succeed when they are there, and progress into good careers when they leave.

Different Universities Different Problems

As Reform’s report, "Gaining Access: Increasing the participation of disadvantaged students at elite universities" shows, however, different universities have different problems. Top universities, which have the highest entry-tariffs, struggle to improve access for disadvantaged students – in part because, on average, disadvantaged students are less likely to achieve the required grades in comparison to their more advantaged peers.

In contrast, lower and medium-tariff institutions admit a much higher proportion of disadvantaged students, and instead need to focus more attention on success and progression. According to OfS data, these differences are reflected in the funding priorities of each university.

Reform’s study demonstrates the slow progress made by top universities in their efforts to improve access. For example, according to UCAS data, the most advantaged students are nearly 10 times more likely to attend a high-tariff institution.

The higher education sector as a whole does not offer much comfort either – 12 per cent of UK full-time students came from a low-participation neighbourhood in 2016-17, the same proportion as 2015-16.

Three Steps to Better Measures

To improve these figures, a range of measures could be introduced: 

 

1. Access Spending Breakdown

First, a better breakdown of access spending, such as outreach activities and funding for contextualised admissions, would help to better inform universities about what policies work, and which policies don’t. 

Currently, universities publish their overall spending on access, success and progression, but offer little information detailing how this is spent. As spending on access increased by 6 percentage points between 2015-16 and 2016-17, but with little improvement in access for disadvantaged students, this should be a priority.

2. Synthetic Data to Measure Disadvantage

Second, a more accurate measure of disadvantage is needed to examine the progress made by universities. The POLAR3 metric, an area-based assessment of higher education progression, is not always a fair measure of disadvantage. Indeed, POLAR3, which classifies students into five categories, can group together students from very different backgrounds living in the same area.

POLAR3 remains, however, the only publicly available dataset used across the higher education sector. In part, this is because it uses less-sensitive data that cannot identify an individual person. Using synthetic data, which would provide an artificial version of a sample of data, could offer a more robust measure of each university’s progress. The Department for Education could create an indicator based on sensitive attributes in the National Pupil Database, such as income deprivation and Free School Meal status, whilst preserving the privacy of the individuals in the original data sample.

3. Make Better Room

Third, a national campaign is needed to encourage students to apply to top universities. As Reform’s research highlights, even if disadvantaged students achieve the required grades to enter a top university, they are less likely to apply in comparison to their more advantaged peers.

By adopting a campaign similar to Better Make Room in the USA, which attempts to get disadvantaged students to apply to universities through a variety of mediums such as text alerts and online tools to assess financial costs, it can help to increase the rate of applications.

Although top universities have committed to improving access, Reform’s report demonstrates there is still a long way to go.

Going forward, a better breakdown of spending, a more robust measure of disadvantage and a campaign to encourage students to apply could help to tackle one of the barriers facing disadvantaged students in their journey through higher education.

Dr Luke Heselwood, Report Author and Reform Researcher

You may also be interested in these articles:

Register, Login or Login with your Social Media account:


Advertisers

Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Newsroom Activity

FE News: The Future of Education News Channel had a status update on Twitter 3 hours 45 minutes ago

City of London Corporation provides Square Mile schoolchildren with food vouchers during half term break:… https://t.co/QilxKc8yaD
View Original Tweet

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In May 2020, FE News had over 120,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.

Podcasts

We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.

Events

FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page