International research on the effectiveness of widening participation

October 2013

HEFCE commissioned CFE and Edge Hill University to produce a report on effective approaches to widening participation in six case study countries: the Netherlands, the US, Australia, South Africa, Norway and Ireland. The review was commissioned to inform the national strategy for access and student success which HEFCE and the Office for Fair Access are jointly developing.

The aims of the research are:

  • to critically examine the evidence for the impact and effectiveness of activity and policies specifically focused on widening participation and success in higher education, and to deliver an assessment of the robustness of that evidence base
  • to critically examine the nature of the educational systems from pre-school through to higher education to determine whether there are systemic factors which make progression to and success in higher education for those from more disadvantaged backgrounds more or less likely.

The findings highlight that there are many similarities in the challenges and approaches identified by the case study countries in working to ensure equitable entry and success in higher education. Some key areas recommended for further consideration are:

  1. A greater role for evaluation at national and institutional levels
  2. A review of financial support: there needs to be a balance between the level of costs incurred by students and the amount of financial support available. A review of alternative models of financial aid, including consideration of how adults, those on benefits and middle income students might best be supported.
  3. A more co-ordinated approach to information, advice and guidance (IAG) across the student lifecycle should be considered.
  4. Collaborative working: The English policy context would benefit from a more joined up approach to work in schools, colleges and HEIs to raise not just aspiration, but increase attainment and promote progression to HE.
  5. Good practice sharing
  6. Alternative entry requirements and access programmes: more mainstream consideration should be given to alternative entry routes and bridging programmes to facilitate the access of academically well prepared young people and adults who otherwise would lack appropriate entry qualifications and preparation.
  7. Inclusive learning and teaching strategies: there could be greater recognition of the contribution of learning and teaching strategies in improving retention and success including the contribution of staff development to facilitate this. 

The report forms part of the broader evidence base used to inform the development of the national strategy for access and student success. Its influence can be seen in the national strategy recommendations.

Page last updated 9 October 2013

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