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 Participation. It showcases the idea from Mike Nicholson, Director of Undergraduate Admissions and Outreach at the University of Bath.
One of the challenges in a new role is that there is a pressure to innovate and do something new. But access and widening participation is a well-travelled path. Rather than fruitlessly searching for a silver bullet, we should utilise the existing expertise and ideas. A good starting point is the October 2016 report of the Social Mobility Advisory Group, Working in Partnership: enabling social mobility in higher education, which is full of good recommendations and proposals, most of which have been sidelined as politicians and decision-makers have grappled with new challenges.
One recommendation that could achieve a quick win would be the development of contextual data. The Participation of Local Areas (POLAR) classification groups was a start, but it is being increasingly used as the only indicator of disadvantage, a role for which it was never intended and for which it is unsuited, on its own, to deliver. With the existing knowledge and expertise, it should be possible to develop a basket of measures applicable not only to support contextual admissions, but also target outreach activity and assist in monitoring and tracking student progress and outcomes. If you are feeling really radical, you could also support development of measures that work across all four nations of the UK.