We aim to ensure that all students, from all backgrounds, with the ability and desire to undertake higher education, are supported to access, succeed in, and progress from higher education.
What do we want to achieve?
Some groups of people are less likely to access higher education. Many do not achieve the qualifications needed to study in higher education and these gaps in achievement are apparent from a young age.
There is also inequality between groups once they get into higher education. Some people are more likely to do well than others, even when their prior academic performance is the same.
Tackling these issues forms a central part of the OfS's mission.
Universities and colleges should make a difference to the life chances of those they educate. They should also ensure that those historically excluded from higher education can benefit from it. As the regulator for higher education in England, we set requirements and expectations to make sure this happens.
To achieve our mission, we have a set of priorities for access and participation. Our priorities involve expecting and supporting universities and colleges to:
- partner with schools and other local organisations to raise the attainment of young people
- develop more diverse pathways into and through higher education through more flexible courses
- ensure access leads to participation on high quality courses and secures good graduate outcomes
- improve the quality and volume of evaluation of access and participation plan activity
- make access and participation plans more accessible in a way that prospective students, their parents and other stakeholders can easily understand.
Informed by these priorities, we consulted on a new approach to regulating equality of opportunity in English higher education in late 2022.
We have published updated requirements for universities and colleges in relation to access and participation plans (APPs). These are agreements which set out how universities and colleges will improve equality of opportunity for underrepresented groups to access, succeed in and progress from higher education.
The new approach is underpinned by the information we share through the access and participation data dashboard and our new Equality of Opportunity Risk Register. APPs are informed by the gaps and risks presented in these tools.
The dashboard provides helpful data which allows the OfS, registered universities and colleges, and the public to identify gaps between groups across the student lifecycle.
The Equality of Opportunity Risk Register identifies key sector-level risks to equality of opportunity in higher education and highlights which student groups are most affected by each one.