We carry out a number of activities to increase access, participation, and success for students in English higher education.
1. Access and participation plans
If a provider is registered with the Office for Students, and wants to charge higher fees, they must have an access and participation plan.
The plan sets out how a university or college will challenge risks to equality of opportunity, including the underrepresented groups it will work to support.
Informed by a consultation, in March 2023 we announced a new approach to regulating equality of opportunity in English higher education, with new requirements for access and participation plans. The first set of new plans will take effect from the 2024-25 academic year.
2. Access and participation data
We publish an access and participation data dashboard for each registered provider.
This is an important tool for understanding the progress that the sector and individual providers are making to improve equality of opportunity. We continue to develop the dashboard, incorporating additional measures and characteristics when we can.
3. Equality of Opportunity Risk Register
We have produced the Equality of Opportunity Risk Register, which identifies sector-level risks to equality of opportunity in higher education and highlights which student groups are most affected by each one.
Providers are expected to consider the risk register when designing their access and participation plans.
We monitor providers' progress in delivering their access and participation plan commitments each year. We keep our approach to monitoring of access and participation plans under review to ensure that monitoring is effective and proportionate.
5. Uni Connect
We run the Uni Connect programme, bringing together 29 partnerships of universities, colleges and other local partners to offer activities, advice and information to young people on the benefits and realities of going to university or college.
6. Evaluation, evidence, and effective practice
It is important that work on equality of opportunity is informed by evidence and evaluated to understand its real impact. We expect providers to evaluate their work and publish the findings.
We provide guidance on how to effectively evaluate access and participation work.
We also fund TASO, an independent organisation that supports access and participation work across the higher education sector. They carry out and use research and evaluation to determine what works in eliminating equality gaps in higher education.
7. Raising attainment in schools
Part of our new approach to access and participation plans involves encouraging universities and colleges to build partnerships with schools to raise the attainment of students under 16 years old. We provide guidance on building successful partnerships and carrying out attainment raising work, as well as a guide for schools.