The access gap at England’s most selective universities will almost halve in the next five years if universities meet the ambitious new commitments they have made on equal opportunities, according to a new report from OfS, the higher education regulator.
NUS Disabled Students Officer, Piers Wilkinson* commented:
"It is encouraging to see the higher education sector promise to take bold steps to address gaps in attainment. NUS, students’ unions and activists have been driving these issues for years – but to be meaningful, these commitments need to take into account the long distance many institutions have to travel to iron out institutional prejudices and the intersecting barriers that students face on campus and not just become action to chase targets.
"There is also a need for a nuanced understanding of the statistics and numerical targets. The disabled student attainment gap often hides the shocking figures underneath, where the attainment and employment gap vary greatly between impairment classification and type of support provision, for example, funding caps to support which impact visually impaired and blind students. Universities must also ensure that any support disabled students receive is high quality.
"The Black Attainment Gap is a symptom of underlying race inequities that permeate through our institutions and their decision-making processes. UUK’s #ClosingtheGap and the EHRC’s report on racial harassment highlighted that the understanding and capacity to make a change in this area is currently limited. Universities must ensure that the change in this area is meaningful and does not rely solely on the unpaid work of students and academics of colour who already experience marginalisation."
*Please note Piers Wilkinson’s pronouns are they/ them.
Notes on Office for Student (OfS) Access Report
In late 2018, the Office for Students (OfS) set new national targets to achieve equality of opportunity in higher education by tackling gaps in entry rates, dropout rates and degree outcomes between different groups of students.
Universities and colleges have since been drawing up their own access and participation plans to work towards these targets. The OfS has now approved over 200 of these plans, which set out each higher education provider’s commitments to ensuring that students from all backgrounds can get in to university and succeed while there and after they leave and are a requirement of being able to charge higher tuition fees.
For further details ‘Transforming opportunity in higher education: An analysis of 2020-21 to 2024-25 access and participation plans’