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Enabling wider access to Higher Education by Laura da Costa

In June of this year, a team of CEM researchers, at Durham University, travelled to Leicester for the NEON Summer Symposium. The National Education Opportunities Network (NEON) was founded in 2012 as a professional organisation supporting those involved in widening participation (WP) to higher education (HE).

Progress and challenges

Student and Teacher University

This year’s symposium brought together WP practitioners, academics, members of the National Union of Students, and government organisations to identify where progress is being made and where challenges exist in advancing and evaluating efforts to widen access to HE.

Researchers from the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring, Kirsty Younger, Dr Helen Wareham, and Dr Laura da Costa presented on their work as part of the Sutton Trust Common Evaluation Framework. The Framework seeks to provide a coherent and consistent means of monitoring and evaluating a number of the Trust’s widening participation interventions, which span a varied age range, delivery model, and audience.

Teachers implementing change

Kirsty Younger presented a qualitative exploration of interviews with teachers who have been on the Sutton Trust’s Teachers Summer School programme. The programme aims to increase the number of young people from lower income households and less advantaged schools and communities studying at competitive universities. Teacher Summer School participants are surveyed just after, and some months following the programme. The interviews provide further insight into teachers’ experiences of implementing change in their schools following the programme and the factors that facilitated or impeded this, including teachers’ level of influence at their school/college and conflicting priorities at the level of school management.

Longer term tracking

Dr Helen Wareham and Dr Laura da Costa each presented preliminary findings on longer-term tracking of participants on Sutton Trust programmes using data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA). Helen’s presentation focused on the UK Summer Schools programme which is offered on a national scale, across 11 universities, while Laura presented on the subject-specific programme Pathways to Law, run across 12 universities in England. Both programmes have sought to increase participation in higher education for students who:

  • Are academically able
  • Are eligible for free school meals (FSM)
  • Would be the first generation in their family to attend HE
  • Attend a state school/college
  • Come from areas with socio-economic deprivation and low progression to HE.

The programmes have been running for almost 10 years, and data available from HESA provides the opportunity to track if students from the earliest cohorts have indeed gone on to participate in HE, complete degrees, and enter the job market.

Preliminary findings

The preliminary findings for both programmes suggest that the majority of programme participants do go on into higher education. While an encouraging finding, this is in line with findings from surveys, also run as part of the evaluation, that indicate programme participants are already highly motivated to attend university prior to starting the programmes.

HE progression was broken down further into the percentages per programme and cohort year deferring HE entry; attending Russell Group universities, top third HE institutions, and institutions offering the programmes; as well as more subject-specific findings such as percentages attending top 20 Law institutions and studying Law.

The presentations from CEM researchers were well-attended and generated great interest, underlining CEM’s position as a forerunner in the evaluation of WP activity. CEM researchers will now present the preliminary findings of the HESA analysis as an example of good practice in evaluation at a National Networks for Collaborative Outreach (NNCO) event in London on 5th October.

The National Networks for Collaborative Outreach scheme aims to provide a coordinated approach to outreach between schools, universities and colleges in order to improve awareness and access to higher education.

Reports summarising CEM’s analysis of the HESA progression data, as well as data from the Destination of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey run by HESA, will be disseminated in the near future.

For further information on the Sutton Trust Common Evaluation Framework, methods for tracking students through education, or their other widening participation evaluation work, please contact CEM’s research team at research@cem.dur.ac.uk.

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