The new equality of opportunity risk register, which will be regularly updated, will set out the sector-level risks to equality of opportunity in higher education – which could include:
- Few disadvantaged students being admitted, particularly to selective universities.
- Attainment gaps between different school pupils.
- Not enough non-traditional routes in higher education, such as degree apprenticeships.
Universities and colleges will be expected to consider the register when setting objectives for their access and participation plans and to provide information on how much they are investing in this work. Their strategies should be based on credible evidence and the OfS expects universities and colleges to significantly improve the volume and quality of evaluation to strengthen their understanding of what works. Higher education providers should also include an accessible summary as part of their plan, and work more closely with schools to raise attainment to ensure fair access to higher education.
The consultation will take place over the next five weeks, with views sought from schools, students and their representatives, as well as the universities and colleges the OfS regulates.
This new approach follows the priorities John Blake, Director for Fair Access and Participation at the OfS, set out in February 2022, which included:
- developing and enhancing higher education’s partnerships with schools
- developing more diverse pathways throughout higher education and
- ensuring access to higher education for students from underrepresented groups leads to successful participation on high quality courses and good graduate outcomes.
John Blake said:
‘Our priority remains ensuring all students from all backgrounds are supported to access, succeed in, and progress from higher education. Higher education can improve social mobility, yet too often it is assumed that quality must be sacrificed to improve equality. That must not be the case.
‘Research shows that the attainment gap opens early in life. We believe that universities and colleges can benefit from closer working with schools and charities to address the persistent gap in participation and success between those from the most advantaged backgrounds and their more disadvantaged peers.
‘We want to see better evaluation of access and participation work at universities and colleges, and our new risk register will provide a framework to support sector-wide collaboration which highlights effective practice and identifies where improvement is needed. Our proposals seek to strengthen the progress already being made and encourage collaboration between universities, colleges, schools and charities to identify and tackle barriers throughout a student’s education to ensure they can succeed on their chosen path. This regulation and greater sector co-ordination will help ensure that choice not chance determines who accesses and succeeds in English higher education.’
Subject to the outcomes of the consultation, it is envisaged that the equality of opportunity risk register will be launched in spring 2023 and that the proposed changes that focus on access and participation plans would come into effect from 2024-25 onwards.