This blog is part of the series featuring ideas contained in the new HEPI-Brightside report, Reaching the parts of society universities have missed: A manifesto for the new Director for Fair Access and ParticipationIt showcases the idea from David Woolley, Head of Schools, Colleges and Community Outreach at Nottingham Trent University.


There is too great a focus on simply accessing university, particularly a Russell Group university, in the widening participation debate. Access to university is not necessarily the great leveller it is assumed to be. Many students from disadvantaged areas and under-represented groups do less well in higher education than those with the same prior educational attainment from more advantaged areas.

Some universities, like my own institution, are addressing this issue and challenging the notion of what university study is and should be. Nottingham Trent University (NTU) is refreshing the curricula of all our courses to ensure they facilitate success for all students. Included in this we have looked at the value of work experience and found that disadvantaged students’ participation in sandwich courses can cancel out the socio-economic effect on their progression to graduate-level employment. So, from 2018, all NTU students will have a meaningful work-like experience as part of their course.

We believe other institutions can learn from this. The Office for Students should encourage universities to consider their curriculum design, their focus on employability and broader success for all groups across the student lifecycle.