Our approach to equality of opportunity

What we do to improve equality of opportunity

We carry out a number of activities to increase equality of opportunity for students in English higher education.

1. Access and participation plans

If a provider is registered with the Office for Students, and wants to access public funding, they must have an access and participation plan.

The plan sets out how a university or college will address risks to equality of opportunity, for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

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. It is not intended to be an exhaustive list of risks and student groups impacted by the risks, but a starting point for providers thinking about how they can best support equality of opportunity.

Providers are expected to consider the risk register when designing their access and participation plans.

4. Monitoring

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 improving equality of opportunity in higher education.

We are also evaluating the impact of our approach to regulating equality of opportunity.

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.

Last updated 07 December 2023
07 December 2023
Updated in line with new access and participation plans
29 March 2023
Page refreshed in line with our new approach to equality of opportunity
08 March 2023
Note about our approach to the submission of access and participation plans in 2023 added
06 October 2022
Link to consultation on a new approach to regulating access and participation in English higher education added
15 March 2022
Content refresh
29 January 2020
Content refresh

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