Widening Participation Working Group Away Day (Oxford Brookes University)

Semi-live notes from very interesting and data filled Oxford Brookes University Widening Participation Working Group Away Day at Marston Road. (Of 30 people in the room only one obviously black man and two Asian women. Matches our BME student profile? c. 10%)

The day was framed by demographics about where Brookes sits, and politics in light of the forthcoming election, which enabled a critical frame for the day: whose WP are we talking about? Is the “lifecourse” educational – or institutional – for everyone?

Should OCSLD have had a pitch here? Because support for staff development IS support for WP. Though we are not seen as a service for students, institutionally, the significant change that has to be made is “Academic”: academic literacy, academic content, academic writing, academic culture.  Critical analysis is HUGE. Planning and structuring assignments is HUGE. When you have many inquiries from the same course at the same time, you ask: Can we move up the river and see “who is ‘pushing the bodies into the stream'”? Is this is where OCSLD has a role working with course teams?

This post will be updated through the day (Tuesday 10 March 0930-1430)


Start off with stats and fun with clickers exploring beliefs about Full Time Undergraduate UK domiciled students (FTUGUK)

  • UCAS entry tariff is a measure of social capital says Ian Scott. Correlates very closely with job prospects;
    • Jpb prospects also correlate with six-year old literacy, GCSE results and even more closely with “high value” A-levels
  • 7% FTUGUK students from BME groups
    • 17% lower outcome results for BME
  • 15% FTUGUK from independent schools;
  • 27% FTUGUK mature (over 21);
  • 15% of Brookes FTUGUK declare disability and 68% of those declare learning disabilities

Political prognosis

Social justice and economic competitiveness drive complex national WP agenda(s), says Alice Wilby, Director of UK Recruitment and Partnertships. The Office of Fair Access (OFFA) manages the government agenda for WP. OFFA seeks an approach based on:

  • Whole institution
  • Student Life-cycle
  • Long-term outreach
  • Better collaboration
  • Evidence based resourcing
  • Equality and diversity
  • Stretching targets.

Will Labour’s promise to cut fees adversely affect WP? Very complex political landscape at the moment, approaching an election. Likely we will see more targeted fee reduction for, e.g. “poor” students studying STEM disciplines.

Curriculum change for WP? Will the shift to vocational education impact on WP in HE, and on attainment for “WP students”? Traditional A-levels do much better at HE. But more and more are doing BTEC and HND courses. UCAS Tariffs may devalue BTEC and HNDs.

HEAT: Higher Education Access Tracker. Aim Higher re-branded?

Emphasis on “HE cold-spots”, e.g. Swindon. And Swindon is locally politically significant for Brookes.

Impact on Brookes will be strong locally

Local East Oxford Schools will see a lot of change and increasing differentials as house prices elsewhere (North, South, West) drive people East.

Richard Huggins worries that the significant change that has to be made is “Academic”: academic literacy, academic content, academic writing, academic culture. But, what is “academic”? Is it merely a social class attribute that forms at age six in families with a history of HE? We know this may be statistically correlated, but there are many notable outliers (Farraday, for example). The share between the responsibility of the individual and the responsibility of the institutions of society for both the causes of inequality and the remediation of inequality is problematic. Is the “victim” “blamed” for lack of social capital and saddled with the responsibility to transcend social and economic exclusion individually, or, somehow, collectively? How much of the collective enterprise is improved by how much widening participation. And who decides. It is somehow imposed on institutional leaders to make this call in light of constrained resources – however they are constrained.

Each step on a learning journey, each step on the life-course adds (or maybe deprecates) social capital. The headline statistics show that we are doing our bit, on aggregate. Those who arrive with less “academic” social capital appear on some counts to do well. But even the poorer statistics are nuanced, with some areas notably underperforming while others merely do slightly less well or even better than benchmarks.The devil is in the detail. All cause, effect and remediation has to happen primarily at the level of the programme and ancillary factors of the student experience, including the “purely” social (managing major life transition stages: school to work, adolescence to adulthood, career change). Students are fitted for and then recruited and admitted and taught, and passed or failed or withdrawn from programmes. And it is at the programme level that we see the anomalies that weaken our headline “good performance”.

How can we – or should we – “hyper remediate” so that “our” additional HE social capital (learning gain), which “we” enable while people are students at “our” institution, jumps people up and over some or all of their “intake” capital? And what about when this is measured competitively against other institutions?

Long term outreach strategy

Long term, what’s good for the sector will be good for all HE providers. Engagement with schools from early on is key. WP team sets out long term engagement strategy for:

  • Primary (pre 16)
  • Secondary (post 16)
    • HE Conference for year 12 in eight target Oxon State Schools (no private schools). Also work with migrant communities.
    • Brookes Engage, 16 month programme of monthly activities and independent learning modules (not UG) for year12 and others in level 3 education. All four faculties; FHSS: Education, Soc Sci, French; FTDE: Computing, FHLS: Adult Nursing, Social Studies. FoB: Business Studies.
    • Support for FE colleges to work with level 3 students to progress to HE: at Brookes or elsewhere. We attend many careers fairs etc at FE colleges. HE awareness days attract students who have already identified a subject area.
  • NEETS: not in education employment or training
    • we run sports days and socials for parents and young people.
  • Community education
    • Brookes Bridges runs courses in the community: peripheral estates and Colleges. BLITZ is mentioned. (IELTS, Nutrition is popular with Sudanese community)
    • Access Days at colleges support access to HE at FE course at level 3, where people focus on preparing for degree study in a particular area.

[Is this an opportunity to deploy OpenBrookes.net and OOC platform to support early outreach communities?]

Support services

Students on courses are supported through a range of services.

Student Support Co-ordinators and Academic Advisers

Disability services

Wide range of ability and health conditions served by well placed team of advisers to ease progress through university.

Specialist mental room; note-taking help;

Changes to disabled students allowance may improve (? or impact on?) cross institution adjustment to teaching methods to accommodate financial cuts to specialist facilities, equipment and support.

Dyslexia: is it an ongoing condition or a disability?

Upgrade Service

Study advice service for students in the university – those “you have brought in to the university”. Upgrade puts the conversation back into learning with the student. Student is at the heart of what Upgrade does, and Upgrade is at the heart of our academic practice.

Wants to work on academic writing and academic skill: referencing (which is epistemological: how you relate to knowledge). What was your previous educational culture? HE is a foreign country even for locals.


Careers service works like Upgrade with individuals.

Keynote: Peter Riley, MMU Head of WP

[Ian notes that we failed to attract Brookes academics to the away day. Another question of OCSLD]

Peter is first in family to attend uni. Russell group. But wasn’t the right university for him.

MMU WP scene

  • 35,000 students
  • 2 campuses (Manc and Crewe)
  • 47% low income
  • 60% OFFA countable
  • 60% from NW England
  • 70% remain in NW after graduation
  • Financial support for bursaries dropping from 88% to 75% of “countable expenditure”
  • aiming to be in top 50 institutions, nationally for teaching and research
  • Increase entry tariffs
  • increase retention
  • diversify income
  • MMU now has ADSEs who have WP remit (but may not know it yet!). Where the Dean “buys in” to WP it works.
  • Focus on the wider learning life-course (student journey)
  • MMU gets £8M in Student Opportunity Funding (MORE than the REF! But, not ring-fenced nor is this expenditure assessed (outputs: retention is, but not correlated with expenditure)
  • Introducing attendance monitoring in lectures because it correlates with outcomes. Electronic system not yet working: all lectures start at the same time. NFC and swipecard monitoring crashes on the hour
  • Peer mentoring for new students.

What are the WP impact on increasing entry tariffs? (min 240; many enter with 320) Raising tariffs appears to have a positive impact on WP.

Connecting OFFA and Student Funding policy with HEFCE policy is challenging.

MMU has a dedicated WP team operating alongside recruitment, reporting to “the non-academic side” – Registrar. Team does outreach; Peter does policy and strategy. Soon to be reorganised into Student Services (not Recruitment).

Main target for easy indicators is areas of low participation (post codes).

Mainly pre 16 work. Focuses on long-term engagement in local primary schools in order to avoid conflict with recruitment. Targets under-represented groups. Self-declared: area of low participation, family history, young people in care, disabled students. Students in schools on free school meals.

“Greater Manchester Higher” includes MMU, UofM and now all HE providers including FE colleges.

“Traditional outreach work.” Largely delivered by students, (Student Ambassadors) who are paid for their services. “We can pay students, we can’t pay staff”. Corollary delivery of employment skills for “our own students”. Student ambassadors from MMU and UofM work together. Helps raise esteem of MMU students.

Pair up FE teachers with MMU lecturers to observe and/or contribute to curriculum development.

Key messages:

  • demonstrate WP impact of WP funding
  • expect greater scrutiny of funding
  • demonstrate retention and progression
  • Reduce difference in outcomes


Recruitment offer to support to faculties: 0.2 FTE recruitment team member embedded in each Faculty to develop WP support needed. Use this session to envisage the support needed.

Roger Grew leads. Drawing out Faculty perspective

  • What is the value of single point of contact in Faculty for WP?
    • ADSE
  • What data do we need
    • Disaggregate WP data: e.g. ACP v Headington Campus
    • life cycle analysis of student journey
    • Data is available but not given to the right people: more a communication problem than a data problem; there are WP KPIs in each faculty and Department. Programmes report on WP.
    • Do we need a “contextual admissions policy”
  • Balance between outreach and recruitment AND Outreach and pre-arrival
    • Changes to tariffs will confound reporting
    • Good pre-arrival strategy
    • Outcomes for different groups are different!
    • Outcomes are more important for us than recruitment
  • What are conflicts between WP and other agendas?
    • Maybe none?
    • But there is a need for teaching staff development (more acute in some areas).

Impact is at the level of individual programmes and each has a local context.

There is funding to support someone in each Faculty. What about PLWP? ADSEs should “own WP” and operate it through Programme Leads and Subject Co-ordinators?

How can we make more use of students themselves to deliver outreach activity.

  • Student Ambassadors
  • Module support (students)
  • Instepp Volunteers
  • Peer Mentors

Faculties need to feel a “sense of vested interest” in WP. Impact and remediation of outcomes happens at Programme Level. Programme Leads need to “own” WP for their Programme. ADSEs need to “own” it for the Faculty.

What is the “on-course support”. Through the academic offer.

Curriculum change in Schools will need to carry through curriculum change in HE


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