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HEFCE today welcomes a report from Sir Martin Harris, Director of the Office for Fair Access (OFFA), to Government that seeks to establish what more can be done to widen access to highly selective universities.

The report shows that the institutions concerned already make a substantial contribution to widening participation in higher education (HE), and actively engage in the delivery of outreach activity both individually and with others. This work includes outreach activity targeted at young people with potential, and the use of more contextual data about educational disadvantages in the admission process.

The report also shows, however, a lack of appreciable progress in increasing the numbers from disadvantaged groups at the most selective institutions. In the light of this finding, it makes a number of recommendations for increased activity in this area, more effective ways to evaluate such activity, and for reporting against targets that are sufficiently challenging.

HEFCE will seek to support institutions to take on board these recommendations. The work will tie in with the flexible forms of reporting on widening participation activity (or 'strategic assessments') already in place, and build on existing standalone projects, such as the 'Realising Opportunities' project that aims to increase access to 13 of the country’s leading universities.

Commenting on the report, Sir Alan Langlands, Chief Executive of HEFCE, said:

'We have long held the view that institutions across the HE sector make significant and lasting contributions to the crucial effort to increase upward social mobility and create a society that is economically equitable and socially just. It is vitally important that suitably qualified people are able to access the programmes and institutions that best meet their needs and aspirations regardless of their background or social class. The issues raised in Sir Martin's report are an important element within the wider picture of widening participation and we will continue to work with the universities and OFFA so that further progress can be made.'

'What more can be done to widen access to highly selective universities? (Adobe PDF)'