The Office for Fair Access (OFFA) has today called on universities and colleges to make fundamental changes in their approaches to widening participation to bring about a step change in access to higher education.

A new report (PDF), commissioned by OFFA and authored by Professor Liz Thomas, encourages universities to take a ‘whole institution approach’ to widening participation – in other words, embedding fair access at all levels, engaging across all areas of work and including senior management.

The report includes evidence and case studies, plus an evaluation tool (PDF) to help universities and colleges understand how to develop and sustain a whole institution approach in their own individual contexts.

OFFA hopes that each institution will use the tool to analyse how embedded access currently is in their work, and to identify opportunities to develop further towards a more advanced whole institution approach.

Professor Les Ebdon, Director of Fair Access to Higher Education, said:

“Adopting a genuine whole institution approach – where access is a key priority at every level – is the biggest thing a university or college could do to make change happen. This research offers a vital opportunity to make the further, faster progress we badly need to see.

“Excellent progress has been made in widening access to higher education for the most disadvantaged young people. But for too long, this progress has only been incremental. We now need to see transformational change.

“Participation in higher education is a complex issue, and I have always said that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to achieving fair access. I advocate the whole institution approach precisely because it is a way to recognise the complexity of the issues we face, and to tackle them on every front.

“I am very pleased to publish this work today, and hope to see every university and college making use of the tools Professor Thomas has developed to properly evaluate where they are – and how far they still have to go – on access and participation.”

Professor Liz Thomas said:

“It has long been recognised that a whole institution approach is the most effective way to increase access, improve success and promote the progression of students from non-traditional and under-represented backgrounds in higher education. The challenge has always been turning this institutional goal into a reality.

“This study has provided an important opportunity to explore how higher education providers are doing this in practice, develop our understanding of approaches that are working, and provide tools to guide institutions about what they need to do, and how to assess their progress towards this goal.”

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