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New report outlines recommendations to improve social mobility in higher education

A new report today has made a series of recommendations for universities, schools, colleges and employers to improve social mobility in higher education in England.

The report reflects the work of an advisory group which brought together universities, employers, schools, colleges and education charities. The group looked at ways of improving education and career outcomes for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, from black, minority and ethnic groups, and for disabled students.

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK who chaired the advisory group, said: 'The evidence provides a stark reminder of the work that still needs to be done to improve social mobility. Disadvantage is deeply entrenched in our society, and there are no quick and easy answers.

'Universities are absolutely committed to promoting social mobility and are undertaking extensive and ambitious work. Our report concludes that we need to carry on doing this work, but with more evaluation, more focus on advice and guidance to students, and better collaboration with schools and employers, and with government.

'The report recommends that universities should work even more closely with schools and colleges in a range of ways, given the strong link between a student’s prior attainment at school, and their outcomes at and beyond university. These university and school partnerships have to reflect the circumstances of local schools and communities, the needs of students, and the missions and expertise of the universities.

'Working with employers is also a priority. It is no good for a student to graduate with flying colours if they cannot then get a job.

'Everyone should have an equal opportunity to succeed in education and in the workplace. This includes mature students, many of whom may not have had the chance to go to university when they were younger. We should avoid too narrow a focus on what happens at the age of 18. This ignores the half a million people who have chosen higher education later in life.'

The report found that while the economic and social position of a student’s family has the greatest impact on their access to university and their success while they are there, the geographical location of where they live is also increasingly being recognised.

Nicola Dandridge added: 'For some areas of the country, young people are much less likely to go to university than in other areas. For any response to make a difference in the long term, it will need to reflect the individual university’s location and mission, as well as the individual circumstances of each student. Any standardised response will not work.'

Recommendations from the advisory group’s report include:

  • The development of an online exchange for universities to share what works in improving social mobility and provide a better evidence base for their activities

  • Universities to monitor and scrutinise data across each stage of the student lifecycle – from applying to university to getting a job – in relation to race, socio-economic status and disability, and where there is a gap explore how this can be resolved

  • A greater use of contextual data to inform offer-making, supported by the identification and sharing of good practice

  • The establishment of a network of practitioners involving universities, schools, colleges and education charities to support attainment pre-higher education

  • The establishment of an employers’ forum to ensure closer collaboration between universities and employers in helping to improve social mobility and employment prospects for underrepresented groups

The employers’ forum will be taken forward by Gaenor Bagley, Head of People, Community and Sustainability at PwC, and member of the Advisory Group.

Commenting on the report, Gaenor Bagley said: 'The report shows that there are a number of barriers to social mobility which can only be knocked down if businesses work together with universities, schools and government. I very much hope that this report is a catalyst for such collaboration in the future.'


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2. Universities UK was asked to produce a report after the announcement of a series of 2020 goals last year by the former prime minister David Cameron, which were designed to improve social mobility. This commitment to improving people’s life chances has continued under the new prime minister Theresa May. In her first speech in July 2016, Mrs May made a renewed commitment to tackling ‘social injustices’, referring to the criminal justice system, universities, schools and the workplace. The report has been sent to the Secretary of State Justine Greening MP and the Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation Jo Johnson MP.

3. Universities UK recently responded to the prime minister’s plans to improve schools in England.

Key Contacts

Gareth Morgan

Gareth Morgan

Media Relations Manager
Universities UK

Clara Plackett

Clara Plackett

Press and Social Media Officer
Universities UK


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