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Following a consultation process, the Office for Students (OfS) has set itself ambitious targets to achieve equality of opportunity in higher education, and will now expect universities, colleges and other higher education providers to set their own individual plans and targets to work towards these during the next five years.

The targets aim to eliminate the gaps in:

  • entry rates at the most selective universities between the most and least represented groups
  • drop-out rates between the most and least represented groups
  • degree outcomes between white and black students
  • degree outcomes between disabled and non-disabled students.

The targets form part of the OfS’s bold new approach to regulating higher education providers on their work to improve access and participation in higher education for disadvantaged students and other underrepresented groups. The new approach also means that:

  • the OfS will publish an access and participation dataset which will show the make-up of student bodies across the sector as a whole and at each individual provider on the OfS Register
  • the OfS will challenge providers by focusing on the level of ambition they set, the credibility of their plans and the outcomes they achieve, rather than on their levels of investment and activity
  • the frequency of written submissions that providers make to the OfS will now be based on how likely they are to make sufficient progress in improving equality of opportunity, with those at risk of making insufficient progress under greater scrutiny
  • there will be tougher requirements on evaluation and better support for this through a national ‘What Works’ Centre to ensure that providers are focusing on the most impactful work
  • the OfS will fund consortia of universities and colleges across all parts of the country to ensure that their work with schools is joined up and targeted to meet local needsk

Commenting on the new approach, Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation at the OfS, said:

‘Our ambition is that future generations should have equal opportunities to access and succeed in higher education, and to achieve successful and rewarding careers.

‘We are committed to achieving transformational change, so our targets are ambitious. But they are realistic if universities make equality a priority and take the actions available to them.

‘Our new approach reduces red tape for universities that are doing well in improving access and participation. But we will not hesitate to intervene where we see low ambition, slow progress or poor practice.

‘The responses to our consultation showed that universities are supportive of the move to a regulatory system that will allow them to plan more strategically, deliver more targeted and sustained activity and better demonstrate impact.

‘Higher education should be an engine for social mobility and a gateway to a better life for those who undertake it. There has never been such a powerful combination of pressure on universities and support for their work to make sure that this becomes the case.’


Published by OfS on 13th December 2018