Alan Milburn’s report on social mobility, due in the spring, will address the thorny question of how universities can continue to work together with schools and colleges to ensure anyone with the potential to go to university is not put off by the new fees regime.
In light of this, it is worth checking where we now stand. Reports from the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) show that in 2009-10 English universities and colleges spent a record £395 million on access measures. This includes £355.7 million on bursaries and scholarships for lower income students and students from other under-represented groups and £38.3 million on outreach activities. OFFA’s focus on additional income in access agreement monitoring reports is only a part of the picture and resources were also given to a number of other activities, including widening participation.
However, many argue that the amount spent is beside the point. For them the Holy Grail is whether or not universities’ activities are actually successful in getting people to university and ensuring that they can successfully complete their degree and graduate.
OFFA will be closely scrutinising universities performances, as will the government and the wider public. Universities recognise that it is even more important than ever for them to evaluate and monitor the impact of their outreach and access initiatives.
For universities to be successful at widening participation, in addition to the need to raise attainment levels at 16-18, the key will be to share information on what works across the sector. It is vital that we get better at learning from each other to find the best ways to widen participation quickly, effectively and continuously.
Next month’s Universities UK, NUS and Guild HE event, ‘Evaluation and impact of access and outreach activities’ will address just these issues. We’ll explore exactly how universities can make use of the latest trends, share information and get the insight of their students’ unions to devise effective access agreements.
We’ll follow up in a few weeks on this blog with a little more detail about how exactly funds are being distributed, what universities are doing with the money to support participation and retention and look at the latest evidence regarding the impact of some of these schemes.
In the meantime do let us know what you think! Is your university involved in any particularly great schemes? Is classroom volunteering as part of aspiration-raising something you and your peers might consider? And do you think bursaries will make a difference?
’Evaluation and impact of access and outreach activities’ will take place at Universities UK, Woburn House, Tavistock Sq, London W1CH 9HQ, 21 February 2012, 9.30am-3.45pm.
And if you want to tweet about access or widening participation in the build up to the event or when you’re here, the Twitter hashtag is #ImpactAccessHE