What next for fair access and participation? The third sector forum

Our Third Sector Forum will bring charities together with the Office for Students to accelerate fair access to university

Earlier this year Impetus hosted John Blake, the Director for Fair Access and Participation at the Office for Students for the event “What next for fair access and participation?”. Following the success of this event, we have created “What next for fair access and participation? The third sector forum”. This forum will bring together charities working on widening access to university with the Office for Students (and, where appropriate, higher education providers) to share best practice and discuss policy to help achieve fair access and participation for everyone.

Actively engaging charities who are on the front line of widening participation and fair access to university is an important step. This forum will give us at the Office for Students vital insight, expertise and feedback, as we set out new expectations on the approach to regulating equality of opportunity, that rests on collaboration and partnerships, including the third sector.

- John Blake, Director for Fair Access and Participation at the Office for Students

Why is the forum needed?

Only 28% of young people who are eligible for free school meals go to university, compared to 47% of their better off peers. They are also significantly underrepresented at the top universities, with other students attending at almost three times the rate of students eligible for free school meals.

Universities are required to provide support to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to access higher education, overseen by the Office for Students.

Third sector organisations also play a vital role, working with schools to raise attainment, collaborating with universities to deliver widening participation partnerships, and reaching out to employers to support graduates into the labour market.

With refreshed priorities from the OfS and a new round of access and participation plans due next year, it is crucial that the expertise of the third sector helps shape what this next stage looks like.

How the forum will work

The Forum will meet quarterly from October to discuss the greatest challenges facing the sector and identify solutions to help universities to widen access effectively and reflect social diversity. The thinking and best practice that comes out of the Forum will be shared with the wider HE sector and other interested stakeholders to help drive progress.

Widening participation in higher education is vital if young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are to succeed in work and life – and is at the core of our mission at Impetus. We believe in the power of bringing together decision-makers and third sector practitioners to find solutions to these deep-seated barriers. We hope this forum will contribute to effective policy and practice to widen participation in higher education.

If you would like to enquire about your organisation joining the forum, please email ben.gadsby@impetus.org.uk.

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