From education to employment

HE social mobility programmes not reaching the most disadvantaged

diverse group of people from behind

Programmes to improve social mobility and attract more disadvantaged students into university are not reaching the most in need, according to new research from the Centre for Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in Higher Education (TASO). 

The research – conducted with eight universities and the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) – suggests that summer schools designed to reduce equality gaps in access to higher education are largely attended by students already destined for university. 

The randomised controlled trial (RCT) – where summer school applicants were randomly allocated to receive a place or not – found that prior to attending the summer school 94 percent were already either ‘likely’ or ‘highly likely’ to progress to higher education. 

In response to the findings, TASO recommends higher education providers: 

  • Collaborate with schools and colleges to better target and support disadvantaged and underrepresented young people to enrol in higher education.
  • Increase efforts to reach a wider range of young people through summer schools, or develop alternative programmes that effectively support those who are presently less likely to attend higher education. 
  • Review attainment-raising activities for school age children, in line with recommendations in TASO’s recent ‘Rapid Evidence Review.’
  • Continue to effectively evaluate programmes and generate more causal evidence to understand the impact of outreach activities by following TASO’s guidance

Dr Omar Khan, Chief Executive, TASO:

“Young people today are facing strong economic headwinds. These headwinds have a greater impact on more disadvantaged young people, with a rising cost of living, stagnant wage growth and wider questions about the future of the labour market.

“We need to double-down on our efforts in higher education to ensure that future generations have a fighting chance, building on the success of existing interventions such as summer schools, but also expanding on and developing new interventions that support those who are currently less likely to attend higher education.”

The research findings also indicate that attending a summer school may have a small positive effect on disadvantaged or underrepresented students’ confidence in their ability to apply to, and succeed at, university, their perception of barriers to entry, and fitting in. This suggests that attendees are likely to start higher education in a better position than those who don’t attend. 

Eight universities were involved in the trial. Due to insufficient applicant numbers, only four could be included in the RCT. Half the summer schools targeted students younger than 16, and the other half targeted students over the age of 16.

The report focuses on the interim outcomes from surveys administered before and after the summer schools took place, alongside focus groups with students.

Summer schools included in the research were delivered online due to COVID-19. TASO is running a second evaluation of face-to-face summer schools being delivered between June and August 2022 to compare the effects of online versus traditional delivery.

The final report will be published in 2023/24. It will focus on behavioural findings, including attainment and enrolment in higher education.

Download the full interim report: Summer schools in the time of COVID-19

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