Education & Family

Top universities urged to solve access problem

graduation Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Offa says universities must research improving access and share their findings

Top English universities are being urged to apply their "research expertise" to the issue of access by youngsters from poorer homes.

The Office of Fair Access says there are "stubborn gaps" in participation at highly-selective universities.

But director Prof Les Ebdon said these universities were full of capable people who excelled at problem solving.

His comments come after universities called for the limit on tuition fees in England to be lifted.

Last week, Universities UK, representing university leaders, said it wanted fees to rise with inflation above the current £9,000 cap.

The body said the value of the fees, which have been fixed since 2012, had been declining in real terms.

Research expertise

Now Offa, which regulates fair access to higher education in England, says highly-selective universities must use their academic and research expertise to improve fair access and build on progress so far.

In a speech to the Brilliant Club's annual conference, Prof Ebdon will tell an audience of university staff that the key to making faster progress is to make better use of the research expertise they have available to them.

In his speech, Prof Ebdon will say: "There have been stubborn gaps in participation at highly selective universities for a long time, but the tanker is starting to turn.

"Highly-selective universities are starting to achieve real change, by developing creative, evidence-led solutions underpinned by increasing understanding of what's most effective at each particular institution.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption The comments come as universities are asking for a rise in tuition fees

"They face tough challenges in improving access. But highly-selective universities are full of highly-intelligent people who excel at solving problems. If they truly harness their wealth of research expertise, it could bring a step change in progress.

"Offa has already begun to work closely with university researchers to improve evidence and understanding, and the whole sector will benefit from sharing the outcomes of this work."

The Brilliant Club is a non-profit organisation that aims to widen access to top universities for outstanding pupils from non-selective state schools.

The group recruits, trains and places doctoral and postdoctoral researchers into non-selective state schools and sixth-form colleges in areas where few young people take up a place at university.

They give university-style tutorials to small groups of outstanding pupils to help them develop the knowledge, skills and ambition needed to secure places at top universities.

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