Enabling success for learners from widening participation backgrounds


On Tuesday 6 February, AccessHE hosted Enabling success for learners from widening participation backgrounds, the second event in our London Student Outcomes series.

The event aimed to explore some of the key challenges and questions for London institutions, share examples of leading practice in student success work from AccessHE members, and understand what collaborative work can be done to improve outcomes for all and close unexplained gaps between different social groups.

You can download the presentations from the day.

Why ‘student success’?

The 2018-19 round of access agreements marks the first year in which committed spending on student success activity is set to exceed that of access, marking a symbolic recognition of its importance in widening participation. Indeed, with the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) set to embed itself further within the sector, and with success for learners from all social backgrounds as one of the primary objectives of the Office for Students (OfS), ‘student success’ will continue to be a key area of focus for higher education in the coming years.

On the day

Alistair McNaught, Subject Specialist (Accessibility and Inclusion) at Jisc started the day with a demonstration of the “swiss army knife” of productivity tools hidden in everyday computer programmes. Sam Turner, London Programmes Coordinator at AccessHE, then explored some key shared themes and activities in this area gathered from AccessHE member access agreements and follow-up informal consultations, including:

  • difficulty in defining and measuring ‘success’;
  • aligning who has strategic / operational oversight for this work across an institution;
  • the value of targeted vs universal approaches;
  • recognition of the importance of mental health;
  • peer-assisted activity; and
  • a curriculum which is both inclusive and skills-rich.

After a short break, Nikki Anghileri, Head of Learning Development at St Mary’s University, kindly gave an overview of their work in this area, including techniques to “support by stealth” and embed learning development across the institution. Robyn Fitzharris and Iqbal Miah then presented on the Student Success Project at Brunel University London which aims to reduce attainment gaps between ethnic groups by focusing on assessment, awareness, curriculum, and support and sense of belonging.

The final session provided the chance for participants to share their own thoughts and offer suggestions for what AccessHE might be able to do to support institutions with their student success activity going forward. The key recurring theme was the variability in what was considered ‘success’ between individual students as well as different social groups, institutions and places. Is there something distinctive about the London student experience which might lend itself to more collaborative work?

What’s next?

It is clear that there is a role for AccessHE to further develop dialogue and practice around the range of ways in which we understand student success in the London context. Unpacking the nebulous concept of ‘success’ and translating policy messages and measures to improve practice on-the-ground will be crucial in the coming years. Our colleagues value immensely the opportunity to share their ideas, concerns and practice with others through events such as these and our regular action forums, and we’ll continue to provide such opportunities to all of our members as they engage with widening participation work across the full student lifecycle.

The next event in our London Student Outcomes series will explore degree apprenticeships as a social mobility opportunity and will take place on Monday 23 April 2018.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact Sam Turner, London Programmes Coordinator, at sam.turner@londonhigher.ac.uk.