What is widening participation?
The term 'widening participation' refers to the support that is provided to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to enable them to access higher education. Widening participation aims to ensure that access to university is fair and not determined by background.
What is Impetus doing to widen participation?
We have worked with widening participation charities The Access Project and IntoUniversity to improve university access for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, supporting them to increase their impact and scale their programmes. We also provide the Secretariat for the Fair Access Coalition, a group of nine widening participation charities who come together to advocate on issues that affect fair access.
We hosted the new Director for Fair Access and Participation at the Office for Students, John Blake, in his first external speaking event, to discuss how we can enhance collaboration between schools, universities and the third sector to support more young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to progress to higher education.
Following its success, we established “What next for fair access and participation? The third sector forum” to provide widening participation charities with the space to engage with the Office for Students and discuss policy to help achieve fair access and participation for everyone.
We also call on government and the wider higher education sector to implement policies that will have a positive impact on fair access. Last year, we advocated against a move to post-qualification admissions (PQA) as we believed it would be detrimental to fair access. You can read our full response to the debate here.
Our widening participation recommendations for government
- Attainment raising support. The attainment gap remains the biggest barrier to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds progressing to university. We need targeted, well-evidenced attainment raising support, particularly at GCSE or equivalent, where we see the biggest gaps. Read more about what our charity partner, The Access Project, is doing to deliver on this.
- Contextual admissions. The attainment gap does not reflect lower ability in young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, nor their potential. Contextual admissions reduce the entry requirements for students from underrepresented backgrounds to reflect this. Whilst we work to close the attainment gap, universities must use contextual admissions for free school meal eligible young people, and other key flags of disadvantage, so young people don’t lose out.
- Evidence-based widening participation interventions. The attainment gap may be the biggest barrier to progression to university, but it’s not the only one. We need to build the evidence base and determine what works to overcome additional barriers such as familiarity with the system and sense of belonging. We’ll continue funding charities, like IntoUniversity and their FOCUS programme, to discover and deliver this impactful work, but the government, the Office for Students and universities have a responsibility here too, and we’ll continue influencing them to meet it.