Our approach to equality of opportunity

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 people are less likely to benefit from higher education. Because of unequal opportunities in early life, some learners do not achieve the knowledge, skills and dispositions needed to access the higher education that best matches their expectations and ambitions. These differences in attainment are often apparent from a young age.

Even if they reach higher education, some people find they don't do as well as others even when their prior academic performance is the same. Or, they discover that they have fewer chances to experience all aspects of higher education for reasons beyond their control.

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.

Our priorities

To achieve our mission, we have a set of priorities for equality of opportunity.

Our priorities involve expecting and supporting universities and colleges to:

  • ensure access leads to participation on high quality courses and secures good graduate outcomes
  • 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
  • make their plans to improve equality more accessible, in a way that prospective students, their parents and other stakeholders can easily understand
  • improve the quality and volume of evaluation of interventions around equality of opportunity.

Our approach

The major tool the OfS uses to support and challenge the higher education sector to improve equality of opportunity is access and participation plans. These are agreements that set out how universities and colleges will improve equality of opportunity for disadvantaged groups to access, succeed in and progress from higher education.

Every provider who wishes to access public funding must have an access and participation plan approved by the OfS.

Find out more about access and participation plans

We have published updated requirements for universities and colleges in relation to access and participation plans.

The new approach is underpinned by the information we share through the access and participation data dashboard and our Equality of Opportunity Risk Register.

Access and participation plans set out how providers will address risks to equality of opportunity, which they identify using these and other tools.

The Equality of Opportunity Risk Register identifies key sector-level risks to equality of opportunity in higher education and highlights evidence about which student groups are most likely to be affected by each one.

The dashboard provides helpful data that allows the OfS, registered universities and colleges, and the public to identify indications of risk between groups across the student lifecycle.

This approach was informed by a consultation on regulating equality of opportunity that we ran in late 2022.

Find out more about improving equality of opportunity
Last updated 07 December 2023
07 December 2023
Page updated in line with our new access and participation plan information
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 the consultation on a new approach to regulating access and participation in English higher education added
15 March 2022
Content refresh with our new priorities
29 January 2020
Content refresh

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