From education to employment

Access and participation shake-up will boost equality of opportunity, says John Blake

Setting out his plans for access and participation at a Social Mobility Foundation event in London, Office for Students (OfS) director for fair access and participation, John Blake today announced plans for a new risk register to identify students who need extra support get the help they need from universities and colleges.

John Blake said:

‘Universities and colleges can and should make a huge difference to the life chances of those they educate. We contend there is a wider mission for higher education—a civic and moral duty to always seek out new ways to serve our society and better ways to ensure that those historically excluded from higher education can benefit from it.

‘We will build a framework that captures the scale of the sector’s work on equality, and channel it into a coherent, co-ordinated and compelling alignment that uses the sector’s limited resources and capacity to greatest effect. We propose a model where the OfS focuses on a sector-wide discussion where universities and colleges will undertake serious and sustained analysis of their own context and mission, and identify the most serious risks to equality of opportunity they face, and outline measures to mitigate these. Access and participation plans will become a public collective record of the gravest challenges higher education providers are taking on, the interventions they propose to use to tackle them, and the methods they will utilise to understand if they have succeeded and how and why that outcome has occurred.

‘We plan to create an “equality of opportunity risk register”, which we will expect universities and colleges to have regard to in creating their plans. We propose to define risks to equality of opportunity as occurring when an individual, because of circumstances that the individual did not choose, may have their choices about the nature and direction of their life reduced by the actions or inactions of another individual, organisation or system. This register will help ensure that sector-wide risks are properly addressed by higher education providers, while also respecting the autonomy and pluralism of the sector.

‘Evaluation and ongoing learning about efficacy and efficiency is essential to understanding whether risks to equality of opportunity have been reduced. We will hold universities and colleges accountable for undertaking and evaluating the interventions they have committed to, ensuring that they are taking action to tackle risks to equality of opportunity, and helping build our knowledge of what works, and what does not, in a coherent manner.

‘We believe that our regulation can and will establish greater clarity and co-ordination of the sector’s work in this area. It will expand its impact and make possible more and better activity in partnership with employers, schools and charities, to ensure that choice, and not chance, determines who accesses and succeeds in English higher education.’

The OfS plans to consult on a new approach to access and participation plans next week, which will introduce a stronger focus on universities, schools and colleges working together to improve attainment. It will also emphasise the importance of effective evaluation and of ensuring that students continue their studies, complete their courses and are successful in getting good jobs.

The OfS’s consultation on new regulatory expectations for access and participation will begin in October.

Sector Response

Skills Minister Andrea Jenkyns said:

“The journey towards a successful future begins in classrooms, not campuses, and everyone in the education sector has a part to play. 

“That is why we have asked the Office for Students to look at how we can make sure universities all over the country are actively working with their local schools to raise pupil attainment, particularly for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“Real social mobility is about more than just getting disadvantaged students through the door at university and we look forward to seeing the full consultation launch from the OfS next week.”

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