New levelling up plans launched to improve student outcomes

Universities will be required to improve outcomes for disadvantaged children by driving up education standards in schools and colleges in the local community, which could include providing activities like tutoring.

They will also be required to set new ambitious targets to support students throughout their time at university by reducing dropout rates and improving progression into high paid, high skilled jobs.

Universities will be expected to improve education outcomes for disadvantaged students in the schools and colleges across the region.

Measures could include running a summer school, supporting curriculum development or offering students and lecturers to tutor pupils. There will be a shift away from working only with those pupils with the potential to go onto university as well as marketing activities that just benefit universities to an approach that improves education attainment.

The government has also announced £8million investment to remove barriers to post-graduate research for black, Asian and minority ethnic students, with projects looking at admissions and targeted recruitment.

Minister for higher and further education Michelle Donelan said: “We need to be making getting on as important as getting in. Gone will be the days where universities were recruiting students onto courses that lead to dropping out, frustration and unemployment. A student’s outcome after university needs to be as important to providers as a student’s grades before university.

“We need to send a message to every disadvantaged young person thinking about higher education that they will have the support through school, college and university to get there and achieve a positive outcome for themselves.”

The reboot of universities access and participation plans will play a key role in the government’s levelling up agenda and the national focus on improving the skills gap in disadvantaged areas. The Office for Students will ensure that the new plans focus on the following priorities:

  • Ensuring that universities move from just getting disadvantaged students through the door, to admitting them onto courses that deliver positive outcomes; universities should tackle dropout rates and support them through university to graduation and into high skilled, high paid jobs
  • Working more with schools and colleges to raise standards in schools so students get better qualifications and have more options and can choose the path that is right for them
  • Offering more courses that are linked to skills and flexible learning such as degree apprenticeships, higher technical qualifications and part time courses
  • Cutting out complexity and bureaucracy from access and participation plans, giving universities more time to focus on disadvantaged learners

The reform will be the first task for John Blake who has been appointed as new director for fair access and participation at the Office for Students. After a career in teaching and education policy, John now leads on policy and political issues related to schools, education, and wider social impact for Ark, a charity which operates one of the most successful multi-academy trusts in the country, Ark Schools. He will draw on his experience of highly successful schools and social reform charities in order to improve academic attainment through the country’s world class universities.

John said: “I am delighted to be appointed as director for fair access and participation. I look forward to working with universities and colleges to ensure that young people from all backgrounds are able to access the education that is right for their achievements and aspirations.  

“I am especially keen to see further development of partnerships between higher education providers and groups of schools to improve attainment for disadvantaged young people throughout their schooling, providing them the knowledge, skills and experiences they need to access higher education. 

“But attainment and access are only the first steps: they need to be matched by participation and success. It is crucial that students are able to study on high quality courses which meet their needs, and are then supported so they are ready to embark on rewarding lives and careers after graduating.”

Alongside this work, there is an intervention to ensure improved access and participation at a postgraduate level. Thirteen new projects, worth nearly £8million, will attempt to tackle persistent inequalities that create barriers for Black, Asian and minority ethnic students to access and take part in postgraduate research (PGR).

The projects are innovative in scope, scale and focus to an extent that has not been seen in England before. Delivered over the next four years, they will improve access into research, enhance research culture and the experience for black, Asian and minority ethnic PGR students, and diversify and enhance routes into a range of careers.

Research England’s Director Research, Steven Hill, said: “Persistent inequalities occur throughout higher education for black, Asian and minority ethnic students.

“Some of the inequalities that exist for black, Asian and minority ethnic undergraduate students – such as the current gap in degree outcomes between white students and black students of 22.1 percentage points are reflected in the underrepresentation of black, Asian and minority ethnic students in postgraduate research (PGR) students.

“PGR students are also researchers and teachers, and play an important role in supporting the research and academic talent pipeline.

“Supporting access and successful participation for black, Asian and minority ethnic PGR students through these 13 innovate projects is crucial – both to improve opportunities for current generations, and to increase the diversity of talent into academic careers, which has been identified as important to addressing attainment gaps.”

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