It’s been a busy year for AccessHE, reflecting just how much has happened in UK higher education in the last twelve months. The world around us looks very different now to when the 2021-22 academic year started and the Omicron variant of Covid-19 was emerging on the horizon.
Since then, the HE sector has been grappling with, amongst other things, a Government ‘reboot’ of the widening participation agenda announced in November 2021. The reboot process is being overseen by John Blake, who joined the Office for Students as the new Director for Fair Access and Participation in early 2022. Now, at the close of the academic year, we await a new Government, and with it potentially a new direction to wider HE policy.
August is a good time to reflect on the year just gone. By reviewing the work we and our members have delivered in 2021-22 we want to highlight the impact that collaborative HE-led outreach has had in London and consider what our priorities for 2022-23 should be.
The multi-faceted nature of driving up access to and success in HE in London requires concerted action on many fronts. We were pleased to deliver projects across a diverse range of thematic areas in 2021-22 and that is something we will certainly continue to do in the year ahead.
Nowhere was this breadth of work clearer than in our 2021-22 Uni Connect projects. Our outreach programmes with partner schools in Barking & Dagenham and Havering reached over 3300 pupils this past year, including more than 1400 living in areas of low HE participation. The varied programmes included study skills sessions, HE advice and guidance and subject insights, including well-received pop-up hospitals, run in partnership with Generation Medics, where students from years nine to eleven learned more about careers in medicine and the NHS.
Our Uni Connect team has also supported our members in engaging some of the most vulnerable Londoners in HE outreach projects. Our Future Focus programme, now heading into its third year, brought together four HE providers to work intensively with care experienced young people in north east London, and we delivered a month-long project for a Pupil Referral Unit in Tower Hamlets with local partners in east London that sought to promote positive engagement with education and future choices.
AccessHE’s Action Forums were equally busy this year, providing online outreach for London’s mature students, careers and employability support for students from BAME backgrounds and training for HE staff, to name just a few outputs. The Forums have also provided a space for our members to develop joint responses to the OfS’ new access and participation priorities, not least in the area of evaluation, where we ran a series of training workshops that will continue into 2022-23.
Helping our members to maximise the impact of their widening participation work means, in part, helping them to align it with national and regional policy priorities. We were able to offer several opportunities of this kind in 2021-22, including a roundtable discussion for our members with John Blake, looking at the OfS’ WP agenda through the London lens.
In addition, we published our Best Laid Plans report in October 2021, looking at how the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted young Londoners’ attitudes towards HE. This offered our members an evidence base for designing future outreach and student support projects and also recommended the establishment of a standing young Londoner HE progression committee to provide an interface between London’s students and HE providers. AccessHE is now taking forward the creation of this committee together with the Mayor’s office.
Looking ahead to next year, there is lots in the pipeline including new research and discussion events for higher education staff, practice-relevant Forum outputs, and a mix of new and repeating programmes in the world of Uni Connect. Whilst it’s difficult to say for sure how the policy landscape will evolve in the coming months, we feel quietly optimistic about the prospects of continuing to widen participation in London HE, building on the work of this past year.
We look forward to working with you in 2022-23 and hope you are, in the meantime, having a restful summer.