The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) and Brightside have today released a collection of action points for the new Office for Students on unlocking access to higher education.

Reaching the parts of society universities have missed: A manifesto for the new Director of Fair Access and Participation contains the views of 35 leading thinkers from academia, university administration, Parliament, think tanks and the media. Contributors include the President of the National Union of Students, Shakira Martin, the Chair of the Education Select Committee, Rob Halfon MP, and the Sutton Trust’s Director of Research, Conor Ryan.

Their proposals include:

  • experimenting with post-qualification admissions;
  • appointing a Commissioner for Student Mental Health;
  • requiring targets for students from care;
  • delivering mandatory unconscious bias training for staff;
  • granting fee waivers to asylum-seekers;
  • guaranteeing mentoring for every pupil who wants it;
  • curbing the use of unconditional offers;
  • mandating statistical returns on sexual orientation; and
  • founding new Oxbridge colleges to widen access.

Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute and a contributor to the publication, said:

Real progress has been made in extending access to higher education. But we are only at the first furlong on a long journey. People from rich households are more likely to reach the most prestigious institutions, white working-class boys rarely make it to higher education and there is a big black attainment gap. Groups like disabled students, LGBT+ students and refugees all face barriers in meeting their potential.

The time for woolly ideas is over. We hope our specific recommendations for action are considered, tried and then evaluated for their effectiveness. My own recommendation is the foundation of some new Oxbridge colleges to open our most selective institutions up to a wider clientele.

Anand Shukla, Chief Executive of Brightside and a contributor to the publication, said:

Widening participation is not just a question of access. When students from disadvantaged backgrounds face worse non-continuation rates and outcomes, it is clear they require additional support. Without such activity, the effort to encourage record numbers of young students from poorer backgrounds to enter higher education will be wasted – and in some cases they may be left worse off than if they had never applied.

Broadening the focus of the Office for Students to focus on participation as much as access is welcome and necessary. I hope the innovative ideas presented in this new report will help ensure everyone feels welcome in higher education, regardless of background.

Summer Dolan, student, former Brightside mentee and a contributor to the HEPI/Brightside Report,  said:

As a working class student myself, I’m all too aware of the many barriers people from similar backgrounds face on the route to higher education. These start from an early age, with children in many state schools unaware of the doors university can open. Should they aspire to go to higher education, a lack of effective guidance can result in difficulty choosing the best course for them.  If they do get in, financial constraints may mean missing out on some aspects of the university experience as they feel the need to keep costs down by living at home, or working long hours to an extent that damages their studies. I’m proud that I have overcome such barriers, and passionate about removing them for others, something I hope and believe the Office for Students shares.

 Dr Diana Beech, HEPI Director of Policy and Advocacy and co-editor of the report, said:

Some cases of disadvantage remain hidden. Some people feel the need to hide their LGBT identity, some struggle unseen with poor mental health and some have to fight prejudice that higher education is just not for “people like them”.

We must help everyone meet their aspirations. There are large areas of the country where higher education participation continues to be far below the average. That is why I particularly want to see rural outreach programmes. Everyone, from countryside to city, should have a clear idea of what going to university means and the potential it can unlock.