‘We are still a long way from equality’ – OfS

The Office for Students has announced the publication of the first set of four-year access and participation plans

Elite universities have published access and participation plans for the Office for Students (OfS), pledging to tackle inequality across the student lifecycle.

Chris Millward, director for fair access and participation at the OfS, said: “We are still a long way from equality of opportunity in our universities, and gaps remain particularly wide at the most selective universities.”

The 41 providers – which broadly represent the most selective in the country – have set targets for reducing inequality by 2024/25.

There is genuine ambition and drive among universities to address equality of opportunity
– Chris Millward, Office for Students

Of this group, 31 will be subject to ‘enhanced monitoring’ by the OfS. The regulator has the power to intervene if providers fail to make sufficient progress.

Last year, the most selective universities recruited approximately five times as many students from advantaged backgrounds as disadvantaged backgrounds.

Read more: Better data will improve student mental health, says OfS

“These new plans prove that – following sustained challenge from the OfS – there is genuine ambition and drive among universities to address equality of opportunity. I am pleased they are rising to the challenge, but this is just the start. Now they must turn these ambitions into results,” Millward said.

The plans include targets to reduce drop-out rates for disadvantaged students and the inequality in degree attainment for BAME students. The plans are the first time the regulator, which was established in January 2018, has asked universities to commit to four-year plans.

Universities have set targets to increase the percentage of students from disadvantaged backgrounds

By 2024/25, providers have pledged to reduce the ratio between quintile five students (those from the most advantaged areas) and quintile one students (those from the least advantaged areas):

  • Manchester University will reduce its ratio from 5:1 to 3:1
  • Bristol University will reduce its ratio from 10:1 to 6:1
  • Cambridge University will reduce its ratio from 14:1 to 7:1
  • Oxford University will reduce its ratio from 15:1 to 8:1
  • UCL will reduce its ratio from 14:1 to 9:1

Millward said OfS had launched new initiatives to help providers achieve the targets. “As well as closely monitoring the progress of individual universities, we have established the Centre for Transforming Access and Student Outcomes – a centre designed to share ‘what works’ across the sector and ensure that universities and colleges can develop credible strategies to eliminate inequality in higher education,” he said.

The 41 universities were required to submit plans earlier than other universities because they have earlier recruitment deadlines.

The Office for Students has a searchable site with updated access and participation plans. 

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