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 Lorraine Dearden, Professor of Economics and Social Statistics at University College London and Research Fellow at the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS).
Good policymaking and regulation requires good data used in an appropriate way. We have data that could be used to assess the impact of policies contained in Access Agreements as well as for better understanding the important mechanisms behind differential access to higher education for disadvantaged students. The Office for Students needs to fully link this data in one place.
Why? IFS research linking schools and Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) data shows that students who get the same GCSE results at age 16 are equally likely to progress to higher education, irrespective of their socio-economic status. However, there are socio-economic gaps in access to elite universities and the types of subjects studied, even allowing for school outcomes.
We do not know fully whether this is because (i) bright disadvantaged students are less likely to apply for these courses, and/or (ii) they do, but do not get accepted, and/or (iii) their predicted grades and/or subject choice have some role. There are also socio-economic differences in drop-out rates, completion rates and outcomes once a person starts university. Good data would not only help us find out why these things are happening, but which access programmes are best at tackling them.