The OfS promotes equality of opportunity. This means that all students, from all backgrounds with the ability to study, should be supported to access, succeed and progress in higher education.
Access to higher education is different for different student groups. Some students are less likely to achieve the qualifications they need to study higher education.
There have also been inequalities between groups of students in higher education. Black students have, for example, on average been awarded fewer first-class degrees than their white counterparts. For what we mean by students from underrepresented groups, see our student engagement strategy.
Access and participation plans
We address these issues by making sure the universities or colleges we regulate have an access and participation plan.
If a university or college wants to charge its students over £6,000 in tuition fees, they must agree an access and participation plan with us to help address inequalities. Access and participation plans set out how universities and colleges will help students from underrepresented groups to access university or college, have a good experience, get a good degree, and progress onto further study or graduate employment.
This plan sets out targets for how students from underrepresented groups are supported to apply to and secure a place at a particular university, participate in their education, and go onto a fulfilling career when they graduate.
The plan covers:
- how students from underrepresented groups can access a particular university or college
- how a particular university or college supports students from underrepresented groups to have a positive experience while they study
- how a university or college supports students from underrepresented groups to progress to have a good career and enter employment.
What can students’ unions do?
Universities and colleges should involve students and listen to them when they put together their access and participation plans.
Students’ unions have an important role to play here. They can:
- Work with their university or college on their access and participation plan, collaborating to create and monitor the plan for improvements on a yearly basis. We have a published searchable list of all plans.
- Help the student community engage with the university or college's work to address inequalities.
- Work with the university management to facilitate activities such as outreach projects with schools.
To explore these opportunities, students' unions can begin by contacting the person or team responsible for access and participation at their university or college.
Harassment and sexual misconduct
We also work to help students feel safe on campus.
We work with universities and colleges to tackle harassment and sexual misconduct and make sure all students have a positive experience.
We do this in three ways:
- Statement of expectations
We promote a consistent set of standards through our statement of expectations. This supports universities and colleges to implement effective systems, policies and processes that respond to incidents of harassment and sexual misconduct.
- Effective practice
Working with a range of partners, we develop and share sector-wide effective practice, guidance and resources.
We also provide funding for universities and colleges, which helps them develop practical and innovative approaches and solutions.
What can students’ unions do?
Students' unions can check with their university or college whether there is a consistent and clear policy on tackling harassment and sexual misconduct, and work with them to ensure a robust approach.
Students' unions can help their student communities by raising awareness of these measures and helping the student community know what to expect.
To find out more about what you can do to tackle harassment on campus, we've published a student guide to tackling harassment, hate and sexual misconduct.
We have also published a toolkit of postcards and short videos which can be shared across social media.