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 Dr Graeme Atherton, Director of the National Education Opportunities Network (NEON).


Widening access work across the last 20 years has been bedevilled by short termism. There has been a parade of time-limited national collaborative outreach projects, from Excellence Challenge in 2000 to the National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP) in 2017, with moving targets. The new Director of Fair Access and Participation and the Office for Students can lay down a marker by talking the language of long termism. This means advocating for targets that go beyond one Parliament.

Scotland is committed to ensuring that 20 per cent of higher education students are from the 20 per cent most deprived backgrounds by 2030. Similar long-term targets are required for England but should include success in higher education and progression into graduate employment for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. These targets should be supported by a commitment to a national collaborative infrastructure which is part-funded by higher education institutions as part of their Access and Participation agreements and the Office for Students. This infrastructure needs many years of committed funding upfront and should build on the present National Collaborative Outreach Programme but should be ‘all age’ to counter the bias toward younger learners which has been a feature of the last two decades.