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We commissioned this report by King’s College London, ARC Network and the University of Manchester to critically review research and practice to understand and address differential outcomes, in terms of continuation, attainment, and progression into postgraduate study and graduate employment.

Four types of explanatory factors are identified in the research:

  1. Curricula and learning, including teaching and assessment practices. Different student groups indicate varying degrees of satisfaction with the higher education curricula, and with the user-friendliness of learning, teaching and assessment practices.
  2. Relationships between staff and students and among students. A sense of ‘belonging’ emerged as a key determinant of student outcomes.
  3. Social, cultural and economic capital. Recurring differences in how students experience higher education, how they network and how they draw on external support were noted. Students’ financial situations also affect their student experience and their engagement with learning.
  4. Psychosocial and identity factors. The extent to which students feel supported and encouraged in their daily interactions within their institutions and with staff members was found to be a key variable. Such interactions can both facilitate and limit students’ learning and attainment.