Universities must work harder to support poorer students, says regulator

They’ve said disadvantaged undergrads need more support once they start uni

Universities should work harder and “put their shoulder to the wheel” to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds achieve good exam results and catch up with their peers, the universities regulator have said.

John Blake, director for fair access and participation at the Office for Students has said that universities should not just work on attracting poorer students on to courses as part of their access programmes, only to subsequently fail to support them.

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Addressing representatives of colleges and universities earlier today, he said that poorer students cannot be used to “polish the laurels” of universities, and need more support from institutions as they complete their degrees.

He also insisted that institutions must to do more to help close the attainment gap between poorer pupils and their peers.

He said that universities and colleges have a “moral duty to put their shoulder to the wheel” when it comes to improving their local community.

“Improving attainment in our schools is an essential part of that work.”

John Blake also told the Office for Students event that the attainment gap between poorer pupils and their peers opens up “almost as soon as they are born”, and that universities need to commit to improving outcomes for pupils in early years education.

He also highlighted the need for disadvantaged undergraduates to be given more support during their degree programmes.

“I have heard more often than I would like that students feel their providers fell over themselves to bring them into higher education, but interest in their needs trailed off the moment they were through the door,” John Blake said.

“It cannot be right that those students’ entry to higher education is used to polish the laurels of providers who are consistently and persistently not delivering on the quality of teaching and support those same students need to thrive in higher education, and succeed after graduation.

“They should also be under no illusion that every power the OfS has, including removing providers’ access to higher fees, will be deployed to ensure providers abide by their responsibility to improve access, participation and quality.”

Leora Cruddas, chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts, said: “It is fundamentally important that higher education providers work with the schools sector to improve outcomes for young people and create strong pathways into higher education.”

She added: “Many universities are developing their ‘civic university agreements’.

“Likewise, CST believes that school trusts are civic structures. There is strong synergy between the civic work of universities and that of school trusts.

“This is an important moment for universities to build strong relationships with the trust sector and embed these in their civic university agreements to ensure wider social value.”

Featured image credit: Unsplash

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