Action on Access (2014)

Recommendations to widening access

Action on Access presents a set of 12 evidenced recommendations we feel will help to deliver greater progress in widening access to higher education. This is a goal which has a vast amount of shared support across the country.

The recommendations draw from two sources of evidence; a literature review carried out by Professor Sheila Riddell of the Centre for Research in Education Inclusion and Diversity (CREID), commissioned by Universities Scotland; and a literature review into widening participation carried out by HEFCE.

The recommendations are focused in four different areas:

  • Inclusivity and evidence
  • Getting into higher education
  • Staying in higher education
  • Getting on

These four areas reflect the fact that some recommendations need to reflect national policy, but many can be associated with different stages of the student lifecycle.

Read the recommendations in full in the report.

An overview of the recommendations

  • A.     Universities Scotland, the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) and the Scottish Government should ensure that their policies and measures for widening access (including in relation to Outcome Agreements) recognise the wide range of underrepresented student groups and modes of educational delivery, and widening access through lifelong learning. The policy perspective needs to broaden from the current focus on young full-time undergraduate entrants.
  • B.     Universities Scotland and the SFC should work to identify a small number of suitable measures for monitoring performance in widening access to supplement the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD), given that the definition of widening access in the Post-16 Education (Scotland) Act goes beyond the scope of SIMD1 and that Professor Riddell’s report raises significant issues with SIMD as a primary measure. This work will be foundational for many of the other recommendations.
  • C.     SFC should ensure that there is adequate evidence available to enable it to conduct the triennial reviews of access to higher education institutions (HEIs) and colleges required by the Post-16 Education (Scotland) Act2.
  • D.     HEIs should ensure that all widening access initiatives have appropriate and sufficiently rigorous processes of evaluation built into their design. This is important for performance monitoring purposes, but also for improving the possibility of objectively determining what actually works in widening access. Where appropriate, suitable elements of these evaluations should be published, at intervals, as a matter of public interest. Universities Scotland should seek to establish some common principles to help facilitate consistency and therefore wider use of the studies.
  • E.     SFC should ensure that relevant data about part-time and mature students and widening access is available and situated prominently online. This might include the publication of indicators for these groups alongside the participation indicators it produces for young, full-time students. This does not require new data collection but is about the publication of existing data already gathered by SFC.
  • F.     The report recognises the value that involving current students in widening access and retention initiatives can bring. HEIs should, therefore, continue to involve students and students’ associations in the development and running of widening access and retention initiatives, and consider whether and how this might be enhanced.
  • G.     Recognising the importance of having coherent admissions and widening access policies, HEIs should seek to enhance these links and ensure that changes to policies (for example, because of Curriculum for Excellence), do not interrupt this.
  • H.     It is helpful to HEIs to understand why applicants who decline their offers choose to do so, and where those applicants go instead. SFC should consider whether there is a need for national research on this, and what can be done to ensure there is an evidence base on why people decide not to study at an HEI.
  • I.     In light of the introduction of Outcome Agreements, Curriculum for Excellence and ongoing work about contextual admissions, SFC should commission research which examines the impact of the various reviews and revisions of admissions policies and practices which have taken place in recent years on widening access. This also relates to SFC’s responsibilities to review widening access under the Post-16 Education (Scotland) Act.
  • J.     HEIs should seek to enhance their strategies for securing the academic engagement of all students, and should continue to develop and share good practice about how this work might be used to target effective support interventions.
  • K.     HEIs already track the post-study destinations of students. HEIs should consider tracking different student cohorts, including those entering from a widening access background, and any unfair or hidden obstacles to positive destinations.
  • L.     Universities Scotland, SFC and the Scottish Government should give focussed consideration to issues about widening access to postgraduate level study opportunities (both full-time and part-time). This should include both direct entry into postgraduate level study following graduation and entry after a gap (e.g. in employment).

Key Points:

  • All 12 recommendations come with the endorsement of the Principals from Scotland’s 19 higher education institutions.


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