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Widening participation and fair access: limited aspirations in the era of the new politics?

  • 24 March 2011
  • By Sir Martin Harris & Professor Susan Price

On 2 March 2011, Sir Martin Harris, Director of the Office for Fair Access and Professor Susan Price, Vice-Chancellor of Leeds Metropolitan University and a member of HEFCE’s Widening Participation and Fair Access Strategic Advisory Committee gave presentations at the third in a series of four HEPI seminars at the House of Commons.

While more students from poorer families are getting into university, a recent OFFA report reveals that they are failing to get into the most selective universities and there has been no significant improvement since the mid-1990s. With the coalition government challenging the usefulness of government targets on student numbers, should the terms of debate around widening participation and fair access be re-framed, with the focus on developing alternative routes to HE (for example, through apprenticeships and vocational training)?  Or is that a distraction from the continuing moral and economic imperative – to increase the numbers of students entering higher education and ensure that all, regardless of their backgrounds, are able to exploit their abilities to the full?

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