Risk 6: Insufficient academic support

Students may not receive sufficient personalised academic support to achieve a positive outcome.


Whatever the grades that a student has when they enter higher education, different students may require different levels of academic support.

This may be due to:

  • their individual circumstances, such as personal health issues, special educational needs (SEN) diagnosis or home difficulties that impact on a student’s ability to engage to the fullest extent with their academic studies
  • differences in educational experiences before university that did not equip them with the same level of relevant skills or knowledge as other students.

Experiencing this risk is likely to impact a student on-course and at the progression stages of their education.

  • If a student does not receive the necessary personalised academic support, they may achieve a lower degree attainment than they could have achieved, or they may withdraw from a course.
  • Students may also experience poor mental health.
  • Students may have less time to devote to non-academic activities than other students.
  • These may subsequently further impact on progression rates through to graduate study or to employment.

Students who are:

  • prisoners
  • from a low household income
  • first in family
  • disabled
  • reporting a mental health condition
  • mature
  • black students
  • Asian
  • mixed ethnicity
  • other ethnicity
  • from Gypsy, Traveller or Roma ethnic groups, or the Boater and Showmen communities
  • commuters
  • young carers
  • from a socio-economic background of 'never worked' or 'long term unemployed'
  • from a socio-economic background of 'small employers and own account workers'
  • from a socio-economic background of 'routine occupations' or 'semi-routine occupations'
  • estranged
  • care experienced
  • children in need
  • parents.

Note that the ordering does not denote a scale or ranking system.


It is important to consider how different student characteristics might interact with each other, and with school and areas-based characteristics. Providers may also wish to consider whether the mode of study heightens a risk.

For example, students from black or Asian groups who have also been eligible for free school meals in the past six years are more likely to be affected by this risk than students from black or Asian groups who have not been eligible for free school meals in the past six years.

It is therefore recommended that providers consider intersectionality closely when looking at their own data.

For different groups of students, the impact of these risks that are visible in data might be:

  • low continuation and low completion rates
  • low on-course attainment rates
  • low on-course attainment rates compared with others who are studying the same course
  • low NSS results for questions relating to academic support (such as academic support; learning resources; learning community; mental health, assessment and community)
  • internal data on academic student support data (such as showing low uptake of academic support coupled with low attainment and/or low continuation rates)
  • lower progression rates to further study
  • lower progression rates into employment.

It is important to note that there are also likely to be impacts that are not visible through data.

Although this is a national risk, the extent to which it is seen at each provider may depend on factors such as:

  • entrance tariff
  • whether the provider recruits nationally or locally
  • the extent of academic support provided.

We therefore encourage providers to examine their own data and establish if this risk to equality of opportunity affects their current or potential student population.

Advance HE (2019) ‘Student Engagement Survey’. (Accessed 11/01/2024)

Baowen Xue, Rebecca E. Lacey, Giorgio Di Gessa, Anne McMunn (2023) ‘Does providing informal care in young adulthood impact educational attainment and employment in the UK?’, Advances in Life Course Research,Volume 56,2023,https://doi.org/10.1016/j.alcr.2023.100549.

Burke, P.J., Bennett, A., Burgess, C., Gray, K. and Southgate, E. 2016. ‘Capability, Belonging and Equity in Higher Education: Developing inclusive approaches’. Newcastle, NSW: Centre of Excellence for Equity in Higher Education, The University of Newcastle

Cameron, C., Jackson, S., Hauari, H., & Hollingworth, K. 2012. ’Continuing educational participation among children in care in five countries: Some issues of social class’. Journal of Education Policy. Advance online publication. doi: dx.doi.or g/10.1080/02680939.2011.644811

Chang, M. J., Eagan, M. K., Lin, M. H., & Hurtado, S. (2011). ’Considering the impact of racial stigmas and science identity: Persistence among biomedical and behavioral science aspirants’. The Journal of Higher Education, 82(5), 564–596.  [Taylor & Francis Online] [PubMed] [Web of Science ®], [Google Scholar];

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Donnelly, M., & Gamsu, S. (2018) ‘Home and away: Social, ethnic and spatial inequalities in student mobility’. The Sutton Trust. (Accessed 12/01/2024)

Farmer, Julie (2017) ‘Mature access: The contribution of the Access to Higher Education diploma’, Perspectives: Policy and Practice in Higher Education, 2017, pp63-72.

HEPI (2022) ‘First-in-Family Students’. (Accessed 12/12/2023)

HEPI (2023) ‘Student Academic Experience Survey 2023’. HEPI. (Accessed 12/12/2023)

HEPI (2018) ‘Turning the corner on value for money – 2018 HEPI / Advance HE Student Academic Experience Survey highlights students’ belief that value for money in higher education is improving'. (Accessed 12/12/2023)

K Ellis, C Johnston (2019) ‘Pathways to University from Care: Findings Report One’. DOI: 10.15131/shef.data.9578930) Pathways findings report (1).pdf

Kendall, LS (2016) ‘Higher education and disability: Exploring student experiences’. Cogent Education, 3. ISSN 2331-186X 

Liz Thomas and Robert Jones (2017), ‘Student engagement in the context of commuter students’, The Student Engagement Partnership, p.34

Lyonette, C., Atfield, G., Behl, H., Gambin, L. (2015) ‘Tracking student mothers’ higher education participation and early career outcomes over time: initial choices and aspirations, HE experiences and career destinations. Final report.’ Institute for Employment Research, University or Warwick, Coventry

Mark Holton & Kirsty Finn (2018) ‘Being-in-motion: the everyday (gendered and classed) embodied mobilities for UK university students who commute’, Mobilities, 13:3, 426-440, DOI: 10.1080/17450101.2017.1331018; HEPI-Homeward-Bound-Defining-understanding-and-aiding-‘commuter-students’-Report-11429_11_18Web-1.pdf;

Morag Henderson, Nikki Shure and Anna Adamecz-Völgyi (2020) , 'Moving on up: "first in family" university graduates in England', Oxford Review of Education, 11 August 2020, p.13

Mountford-Zimdars, A., Sabri, D., Moore, J., Sanders, J., Jones, S. & Higham, L. (2015) ‘Causes of differences in student outcomes’. HEFCE.

Office for Students (2021) ‘Insight 9 May 2021 Improving opportunity and choice for mature students’. (Accessed 10/12/23)

Office for Students (2022) ‘Insight brief 13: Schools, attainment and the role of higher education’. (Accessed 11/12/2023)

Office for Students (2023) ‘Student outcomes data dashboard’. (Accessed 12/01/2024)

Peytrignet, S., Grimm, F., Tallack., C (2023). ‘The Health Foundation: Understanding unpaid carers and their access to support’. (Access 11/01/2024)

Pokorny, H., Holley, D. & Kane, S. (2017) ‘Commuting, transitions and belonging: the experiences of students living at home in their first year at university’. High Educ 74, 543–558 (2017). 

Policy Connect (2020) ‘Arriving At Thriving: Learning from disabled students to ensure access for all’. (Accessed 12/12/23)

Reay, D., Crozier, G. & Clayton, J., (2010) ‘‘Fitting in’ or ‘standing out’: Working-class students in UK higher education’. British Educational Research Journal. 36(1), 107–124;

Shiner, M., and T. Modood. 2002. ‘Help or Hindrance? Higher Education and the Route to Ethnic Equality.’ British Journal of Sociology of Education 23 (2): 209–232. doi:10.1080/01425690220137729.

Stevenson, J., O'Mahony, J., Khan, O., Ghaffar, F., & Stiell, B (2019) ‘Understanding and overcoming the challenges of targeting students from under-represented and disadvantaged ethnic backgrounds’. (Accessed 12/01/2024)

TASO (2023) ‘Rapid review to support development of the Equality of Opportunity Risk Register’. (Accessed 12/01/2024)

Todd, A. (2024). ‘Research Report: Student-Parents' experiences of academic and non-academic support in UK Higher Education’. Zenodo. 

UCAS ‘Next Steps: What is the experience of students from a care background in education?’ (Accessed 05/12/2023)

Unite Foundation & Stand Alone (2015) ‘New Starts: The challenges of Higher Education without the support of a family network’. (Accessed 12/01/2024)

Universities UK (2019) ‘Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic student attainment at UK Universities: #Closingthegap’ (Accessed 11/01/2023)

Webber,L. and Dismore, H.(2020) ‘Mothers and higher education: balancing time, study and space’, Journal of Further and Higher Education,45(6), pp.803–817.

Who are estranged students?’ (Accessed 12/01/2024)

Written evidence submitted by Prisoners' Education Trust (2021). (Accessed 12/01/2024)

Published 29 March 2023
Last updated 18 January 2024
18 January 2024
We have published a list of references that informed this risk.

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