From education to employment

Improving access and participation in higher education

Dan West, Policy and Research Lead for Social Mobility at the University of Derby, explains the importance of taking a new approach in the University’s Access and Participation Plan (APP).

In September2019, the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, warned that universities must“up their game” and close the wide gulf in the success and progression ofadvantaged and disadvantaged students in higher education. Governmentstatistics published earlier this year revealed that in 2016-17, young,full-time, disadvantaged students were more likely to drop out of university intheir first year (8.8%) than their more advantaged peers (6.0%).

Our Strategic Framework 2018-2030 seeks to ‘empower people to achieve theirpotential and make a positive contribution to society.’ Two of its principleslie at the heart of the access and participation agenda.Firstly, that ‘highereducation should be equitable, inclusive and open to all who have the ambitionand desire to learn and progress,’ and secondly, ‘we understand andembrace our role in raising aspirations, improving skills and adding value tothe lives of everyone in our region.’ We are putting these principles intoaction at Derby by working hard to eliminate inequalities that exist across thestudent lifecycle.

What areAccess and Participation Plans?

Access and Participation Plans set out howhigher education providers will improve equality of opportunity for students.They include the provider’s ambition for change, what it plans to do to achievethat change, the targets it has set and the investment it will make to deliverthe plan. At Derby, our students’ address, their ethnic group, and whetheror not they are disabled are all factors which link to unacceptable gaps incontinuation rates, attainment of a good honours degree and graduate-levelemployability.

TheUniversity’s APP strategic objectives for 2020-21 to 2024-25 are to:

  • Eliminate unexplained gaps in continuation (6.8pp), degree outcomes(16.3pp) and progression (6.6pp) between white and black students
  • Eliminate the unexplained gaps in continuation (6.8pp) and degreeoutcomes (13.0pp) between students from areas of high and low deprivation
  • Eliminate the gap in degree outcomes (4.5pp) betweendisabled/non-disabled students
  • Eliminate unexplained gaps inprogression (6.6pp) between white and asian students

Our Centre for Student Life (CSL) led the production of the APPworking in partnership with academic colleges, professional servicesdepartments, and the Union of Students (US). The US Vice-President (Welfare)co-chaired our APP Planning Group, and a series of consultation exercisesensured that the student voice is at the heart of our new plan.

Why do we submitan Access and Participation Plan to the OfS?

An approved APP is a condition of registration with the Office forStudents (OfS) and allows providers to charge above the basic tuition fee cap. On 21st September 2019, ChrisMillard, Director of Fair Access and Participation at the OfS, wrote to ourVice-Chancellor to confirm approval of our APP, covering academic years 2020-21to 2024-25. The plan is accessible here:

Wewill report on the progress we have made against our targets, honouring thecommitments we made to our students, through the OfS’ annual monitoringprocesses.

What are wedoing to close gaps?

OurAPP Project Group is leading implementation arrangements as we move into a crucialpreparatory phase between now and July 2020. This includes identifying stakeholder engagement, communication and consultationrequirements, agreeing data requirements, developing a theory of change foreach of our strategic objectives, and creating work packages for each targetgroup of students.

Work is underway on the development of a new suite of strategicmeasures that will help to create more a more inclusive community and secureequitable outcomes for our students:

  • Anew Learning and Teaching Strategy – this will ensure our measures andactivities are evidence-based and will maximise the positive impact for ourtarget groups of students.
  • LearnerAnalytics – we are working in partnershipacross the University to develop a suite of tools to enhance our digitalproficiency. This will enhance ourunderstanding of the extent, timing and nature of challenges faced by our targetgroups.
  • AdvanceHE Student Success Framework – we arethe first higher education institution in the country to commit to embeddingthe agency’s best practice frameworks for student success.
  • AttainmentPolicy – work has already begun on thedevelopment of a new institutional policy that aims to addressattainment gaps within the institution.
  • Commuterstudents – understanding the challenges that our commuter students may face…to enable us to provide tailored support for our target groups and help closegaps in continuation and attainment.
  • Development of an APP evaluation strategy – it is vital that we evaluateour practice to understand what works in closing gaps and to share our findingsacross the sector
  • University Mental Health Charter- as pilot institution for the Charter, we will support the sectorto develop and implement a whole university approach to student mental health, andanalyse and identify areas for improvement at Derby.

Whole institution approach

Manyof our staff and students are already actively engaged in the APP Project Groupand the development of our new strategic measures. However, we can only tackleentrenched inequalities if our whole University community engages with the APPand works together in a clear partnership framework to implement the emergingpolicies, strategies and activities.

Thismeans asking difficult questions and learning from each other, studying thegood practice that exists in the sector, and supporting people to deliverchange. We all need to be prepared to try new approaches, take risks that pushus out of our comfort zones, and learn from our successes and failures.

If you would like any further information about the APP, please contact Louise Rutherford, Head of Employability and Social Mobility or Dan West, Policy and Research Lead for Social Mobility, within the Centre for Student Life.


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