The Education Secretary Gavin Williamson yesterday (26 September) declared that universities had to do more to prove they were actively recruiting and supporting students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The remarks came after the Office for Students (OfS) published findings showing people from disadvantaged backgrounds were significantly less likely to go to university than others, and more likely to leave prior to completing their studies.
Responding to the comments from the Education Secretary, Dean of Education and Pro Vice-Chancellor for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Dr Jane Moore, said:
“The reasons why working-class white males are less likely to go to university stretch deep into the fabric of society; they have roots in generations of poor educational opportunity and poor employment, lack of positive role models, poor funding in schools – issues that can’t easily be addressed directly by universities.
“But that’s not to say universities aren’t trying. In total, 67 per cent of Edge Hill’s student intake have widening participation criteria, an impressive figure that speaks to a deep commitment to opening the doors to as wide a cross-section of society.”
Universities implement widening participation plans that provide bespoke guidance to students who may need additional support in order to access higher education, developing and supporting the aspirations and attainment of people from different social groups, who may not normally consider going to university.
Edge Hill has a range of strategies within the plan which includes inviting hundreds of children from local schools onto campus each year to have an early positive experience of Higher Education and make the possibility of going to university a reality for them. For those who have not been able to achieve the qualifications to apply directly, the Fastrack programme offers a free of charge, intensive seven-week preparation for university study and provides a route onto degree courses. In addition, intensive tutorial support and inclusive teaching can help overcome the challenges that some students face during their degrees.
Dr Moore added: “The huge issues highlighted by the OfS should continue to make headlines whilst such deep inequalities in education persist. But there are many committed professionals and institutions determined to make the difference where they can.
“Williamson’s call to universities to ‘up their game’ recognises the urgency for improvement in these statistics but fails to do justice to the complexity and breadth of the challenge.
“The scale of the issues is daunting. However, the rewards for successes are immense – for individuals and society as a whole.”
To read more about widening participation and Edge Hill’s outreach activity, visit https://www.edgehill.ac.uk/studentrecruitment/widening-participation