The impact of interventions for widening access to higher education

This new report from UK think tank Education Policy Institute looks at programmes that have have tried to increase higher education access for disadvantaged students.

With a large gap still existing between the proportion of poorer and more affluent young people who have progressed into higher education, this report examines around 100 programmes that have sought to increase the attendance of disadvantaged students, in order to establish which interventions have been most effective. Higher education institutions spend £250m per year on programmes to increase the attendance of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, yet there is still a need to assess the impact of these activities on student outcomes. Many widening access activities are positively associated with disadvantaged students’ understanding of and attitudes towards higher education, as well as their life aspirations. However, there is an urgent need to go beyond student perceptions and establish the impact of these activities on actual enrolment numbers. Most research to date on widening access has failed to determine this. The report finds that financial aid to disadvantaged students had a small, but positive effect on enrolment levels, though this is one of the most costly interventions. The most positive interventions are those which are tailored to student needs and offer support and guidance on universities and career advice. These include mentoring, counselling and role model interventions, which have helped to increase confidence levels, aspirations and understanding amongst students considering higher education. Alongside this, the report found that wider programmes with multiple elements of support were successful at widening of participation, improving student aspirations outcomes in higher education.

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