Centre for Research in Education Inclusion and Diversity (CREID)

The Evidence Base behind Widening Access to University Education

The Scottish Government and the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) have expressed concern about social class inequalities in access to higher education and widening access is one of the policy priorities identified by the SFC to be addressed in university outcome agreements in 2012/13. The National Union of Students (2012) drew attention to significant differences between institutions of similar type (e.g. ancient universities) with regard to recruitment of students from socially disadvantaged backgrounds. Discussion is currently underway with the sector about the statutory enforcement of widening access outcomes, with the possibility of financial penalties for non-compliance.

The aim of the project is to conduct a literature review of widening access interventions which have been evaluated as successful.

The following questions will be addressed:

  • What types of interventions can be identified at institutional and cross-sectoral level in Scotland, the UK and in OECD countries?
  • Which categories of students are the recipients of particular interventions (e.g. those from low participation neighbourhoods and schools, first generation participants, those leaving the care system, mature learners)?
  • What are the goals of specific interventions (for example, are they geared towards (i) school-level interventions, (ii) devising fairer admissions processes through the use of contextual data; (iii) providing financial, social or learning support to improve retention; (iv) helping students gain access to a profession or post-graduate study?)
  • What evidence is there of the success of different interventions with regard to (i) process and (ii) outcomes?
  • What metrics have been used to measure the outcomes achieved by particular interventions and have these measures been used to track progress over time?

The following methods will be used:

  1. A review of the academic literature on the effectiveness of widening access initiatives will be conducted
  2. A variety of reports will be analysed including the following:
    1. SFC and institutional evaluations of individual and collaborative initiatives
    2. NUS Scotland’s report Unlocking Scotland’s Potential
    3. HEFCE reports
    4. Sutton Trust reports
    5. Work by the Helena Kennedy Foundation
    6. The Millburn Review University Challenge: How Higher Education Can Advance Social Mobility

The questions specified above will be used to identify, in relation to specific interventions, the key players, strategies employed, target groups and measures of success.

Start date 1st January, 2013
End date 31st August, 2013


Project Team

Research output