All universities and colleges which charge fees for higher education must produce an Access and Participation plan. This sets out how they aim to improve access to education, support, and opportunities for students from underrepresented groups. If this applies to you, this guide sets out how access and participation can help.
Why is Access and Participation important?
At the moment, there are some pretty big gaps between underrepresented groups and represented groups when it comes accessing and progressing in higher education.
An underrepresented group is one that is not represented well enough, or is very small, within a given sample. For example, in education, an ‘underrepresented group’ might refer to students from a state school or college, students from an ethnic minority, disabled students, students from a family with low income, or students from a low-participation neighbourhood (one where there’s a low progression to higher education).
There are a few gaps that exist between unrepresented groups and represented groups in education. According research by the Office for Students in 2019:
- 24% of students from the most represented groups go to the most prestigious universities and colleges, compared with just 4% from the least represented.
- 81% of white students get a 1st or 2:1, compared with 57% of black students.
- 78% of non-disabled students get a 1st or 2:1, compared with nearly 75% of disabled students.
Access and participation aims to level out these inequalities across universities and colleges to improve equality and provide better opportunities for underrepresented groups in education.
What are universities doing to fix this?
Universities are trying to reduce these gaps for future generations of young people. They are required to have Access and Participation plans, which set out how they will do this, and how much they will spend on achieving their targets.
Plans are reviewed and published by the Office for Students and include how much of the higher fees income that a university receives (anything charged above £6000) will go towards Access and Participation. You can easily find this information on Unifrog by using the Access rank on the UK Universities tool. You might also find other initiatives by using the Special Opportunities tool, so make sure you check it out!
Here are a few examples of what these plans might include:
- Access to Birmingham Scheme: The Access to Birmingham scheme is a programme which supports students interested in applying to the University of Birmingham, who have little or no experience of higher education. Students on the scheme receive practice interviews for courses where relevant, financial support of up to £3,500 per year of study, and lowered grade requirements (BBB instead of AAB).
- The Oxford Foundation Year: Oxford University has launched the Foundation Year at Lady Margaret Hall College, a free and fully-funded year-long course designed to help students from underrepresented backgrounds reach their potential. The Foundation Year accepts students with grades lower than the standard Oxford offer (BBB at A-Level, instead of AAA).
- Access Manchester Year: The University of Manchester offers Year 12 and 13 students from underrepresented backgrounds the opportunity to pursue education through the Access Manchester scheme. The scheme involves a reduced offer in the A-Level grades needed to study at the University of Manchester, advice and guidance in applying to the university, and help with completing university style academic work.
How can Access and Participation help you?
If you’re from an underrepresented group, a university’s Access and Participation plan might already be able to help you. Speak to the Student Services team at any university you’re considering applying to and asking them what their Access and Participation plan can offer you. They’ll be able to put you in touch with someone who can help.
Even if you’re not from an underrepresented group, it’s reassuring to know that your chosen university is doing what they can to level the playing field for young people accessing higher education. Once you’re at university, you’ll also have the opportunity to get involved by taking part in the Access and Participation activities, such as outreach projects with schools.
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