Westminster Higher Education Forum

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Widening participation and access to higher education

access & participation provider plans | improving outcomes | HEI, FE & school collaboration | the future role of universities in skills development

Morning, Wednesday, 4th September 2024


This conference will consider next steps for widening access and participation within HE, and strategies for improving outcomes for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

It will also be a timely opportunity to consider the direction of the new Government’s policy for supporting improved access to HE, following pledges to improve access to universities and raise teaching standards.

The discussion takes place as HEIs submit updated access and participation provider plans (APPs) throughout 2024, mandated by the Office for Students (OfS).

Stakeholders and policymakers will examine progress on APP implementation and the processes involved for universities, including challenges and best practice in meeting requirements, as well as considering issues around reducing administrative burden, and the way forward for defining and monitoring the success of strategies.

Delegates will also look at best practice in the recruitment, selection and admission of students, supporting diversity, and how universities can better support students to achieve their potential.

It will be an opportunity to discuss requirements in the recently published final version of the Quality Assurance Agency’s Quality Code for Higher Education, which outlines sector-agreed understanding of quality practice across UK HE.

Further sessions look at next steps for HEI collaboration with FE and schools, and providing information, guidance and clarity for students, including the role of technical and vocational routes.

The agenda also looks at the way forward for aligning participation strategies with skills needs, including priorities for upskilling, opportunities for mature learners and the future of the Lifelong Learning Entitlement, and provision of part-time, distanced and flexible courses.

We are pleased to be able to include keynote sessions with: Ben Jordan, Director, Strategy, UCAS; Dr Omar Khan, CEO, Transforming Access and Outcomes in Higher Education; and Dr Andrew Ross, Head, Widening Access and Participation, University of Bath.

Overall, delegates will look at:

  • widening participation and improving access to HE: assessing current issues - tackling barriers - wider analysis of the perception of the UK HE offer
  • finance: potential options for reforming the university system to support aspiration and ability to attend university - implications of increased employer demand for undergraduate degrees
  • access and participation provider plans:
    • examining the process for HEIs: addressing challenges - assessing OfS guidance - examples of best practice - incorporating non-traditional degree options into APPs
    • implementation: progress - priorities going forward - reducing administrative burden - enhancing cooperation and boosting effectiveness within the sector
    • monitoring: defining and assessing the success of strategies - measurements such as rates of student retention and satisfaction - potential sanctions for HEIs that do not accept students from diverse backgrounds
  • non-traditional degree options: assessing flexible, part-time, hybrid, technical and short course models - access to degree apprenticeships - promoting life-long learning and the rollout of the LLE
  • collaboration: improving HEI relationships with schools and colleges - careers guidance and increasing the visibility of HE options in schools - promoting the value of attending university
  • skills and employment: aligning skills shortages in the UK job market and participation strategies - whole-system approaches to supporting skills development and progression locally
  • student support: tackling inequalities in educational attainment and dropout rates - supporting disadvantaged students and those with logistical or timetabling needs - tutoring and mentoring
  • data: strategies for improving the evidence base around widening participation strategies - examining gaps in data highlighted by the OfS 
  • widening access across the UK: lessons for England from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland - potential impact of the Commission for Tertiary Education and Research in Wales

The conference will be an opportunity for stakeholders to consider the issues alongside key policy officials who are due to attend from DfE; Department for the Economy, NI; The Scottish Government; and the Welsh Government.

The proceedings of the conference will be circulated more widely, to Parliamentarians, ministerial offices, and government and regulatory officials with an interest in the issues being discussed. All delegates will also receive a video recording of the conference.

Keynote Speaker

Ben Jordan

Director, Strategy, UCAS

Keynote Speakers

Ben Jordan

Director, Strategy, UCAS

Dr Omar Khan

CEO, Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in Higher Education

Dr Andrew Ross

Head of Widening Access and Participation, University of Bath


Dr Mary Mahoney

Trustee and Secretary, Universities Association for Lifelong Learning

Neil Raven

Independent Consultant, Neil Raven Consultancy

Professor Colin McCaig

Sheffield Institute of Education Research and Knowledge Exchange Centre, Sheffield Hallam University

Nikki Anghileri

Head of Widening Participation, Centre for Teaching Excellence and Student Success, St Mary's University

Nicola Sinclair

Head of Access, Participation and Outreach, and Director (Practice), Centre for Social Mobility, University of Exetera

Professor Graeme Atherton

Head of the Centre for Inequality and Levelling Up, University of West London