This page describes how we have developed the Equality of Opportunity Risk Register (EORR).

In autumn 2022 we published a consultation on a new approach to regulating equality of opportunity in higher education.

In it, we outlined the concept of the EORR, and we said that we would develop it by using the following data and evidence sources:

  1. The OfS access and participation data dashboard.
  2. Other OfS data sources.
  3. Any other relevant, reliable provider or sector-level data or evidence related to equality of opportunity for students.

We also commissioned a rapid evidence review to support the development of the EORR from the Centre for Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in Higher Education (TASO).

Responses to the consultation broadly supported the proposal to develop and use the EORR. We have also published our analysis of responses

We made a few changes to the EORR based on feedback:

  • Several respondents suggested that it would be important to ensure that small groups of students are included. We have taken this into account.   
  • We also made several changes to the proposed structure. It no longer contains objectives that are linked to each risk. This allows for providers to make these judgements and to develop objectives that relate more closely to a provider’s particular context.   

The March 2023 release of the EORR identified risks by using:  

  • the TASO rapid evidence review report and the underlying papers submitted as evidence
  • a reference group drawn from sector bodies
  • organisations with relevant expertise relating to particular overarching risks
  • the expertise and experience of OfS staff.

The updated January 2024 version of the EORR reflects a wider evidence-review conducted following sector feedback and engagement between March 2023 and November 2023. It also draws on the information used to develop the first EORR release. 

Risks have been included in the EORR if the evidence exists to support their inclusion. The evidence we have used is listed under on each risk and each student characteristic page.  

The risks are not exhaustive. In selecting them we have sought to cover the three areas of the student life-cycle (access, on-course and progression), and what we understand to be the biggest – in scale of impact or number of students affected – risks to equality of opportunity in higher education.

In our initial consultation we included an illustrative example of the EORR, and information about the proposed methodology. In this, we suggested that the EORR might indicate the severity of each risk, as well as the student groups the risk is most likely to affect.

Following our review of consultation responses and the available evidence we have decided not to put the risks into a scale as we want to promote consideration of all the identified risks. Instead, we have decided to present each risk as a distinct entity and to highlight potential impacts that a student may experience.

Under each risk we have given a short explanation of what the risk is and have included explanations of potential underlying risks. These underlying risks are possible causes of the main risk. They are not exhaustive and may differ for different student groups. We have listed the evidence used to inform the risk, and the student groups likely to be affected. 

We have not included any information in the explanation that is not underpinned by the research we reference on the relevant risk page.  

We identified potential impacts of each risk by analysing the evidence referred to in research papers referenced in both the TASO report and the evidence reviewed by the OfS in 2023. We have also considered data held by the OfS.  

On each risk page we also welcome submissions of evidence of other impacts and indications of risk. This recognises that the OfS evidence review and the 2022 TASO rapid evidence review and underlying evidence may not have captured all potential impacts.   

To identify at a national level the student groups that each risk is most likely to affect, we have taken two approaches:

  1. National datasets
    If evidence exists to suggest that a risk could be strongly linked to a particular outcome by existing research (referenced in the EORR webpages or in the TASO rapid evidence review), we have used the nationally available datasets to determine which student groups are most likely to be affected, by assessing ‘distance from the average’. If evidence already exists in the literature to suggest that a particular group are likely to be affected by a risk – or by a potential cause of the risk, and therefore the risk – then we have also included the student group under the risk. 

    For example, risk 1 (knowledge and skills) has a strong base of evidence to suggest that a lack of opportunity to develop knowledge and skills is likely to result in lower attainment rates at Key Stage 2, 4 and 5. Using low rates of attainment to determine student groups is therefore a reliable indicator of this risk (albeit that we are suggesting that each group ‘may be affected’ rather than that it is ‘definitely’ impacted).
  2. Qualitative analysis
    Where a risk does not have substantial evidence linking it to a particular impact visible in a nationally available dataset, we cannot solely use data to identify the student groups at risk. Instead, we have used qualitative analysis to define both the risk and the student groups.

    For example, risk 2 (information and guidance) is suggested to impact on progression to higher education, but the research is not comprehensive enough to say that the students most at risk of low progression to higher education are also those most at risk of not receiving adequate information and guidance. In these instances, we have used relevant research papers referenced on the EORR webpages and in the TASO rapid evidence review to identify student groups that the risk is most likely to affect.

    It should be noted that the TASO report sometimes references groups as ‘at risk’ of a particular impact that we have not subsequently identified in the EORR. Where this occurs, it is because the underlying evidence did not control for other aspects that are important to consider, such as attainment rates.

We have included student groups that have very small numbers and therefore may not have statistically significant or robust evidence to support inclusion. Our decision to include these groups was made in recognition of the fact that excluding the groups is not in the interests of equality of opportunity.  

Providers are encouraged to consider small student groups, and where data isn’t available they are encouraged to work with their student population to understand the risks that small groups of students with shared characteristics face.   

We have only listed student groups by personal characteristic – i.e. we have excluded area-based indicators.  

Where possible we have disaggregated student groups to the greatest extent allowed by the data collection.  

The evidence base on risks to equality of opportunity – and who experiences them – is still growing. We hope that the EORR and the new evaluation work in access and participation plans will contribute to growing this evidence base. 

Published 29 March 2023
Last updated 18 January 2024
18 January 2024
We have published an update to the summary of published data for differences in equality of opportunity.

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