Oxford Brookes held up as best practice in report outlining recommendations to improve social mobility in higher education

Monday, 10 October 2016

Students at Oxford Brookes

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

The report, which includes widening participation work at Oxford Brookes as an example of best practice, reflects the work of an advisory group which brought together universities, employers, schools, colleges and education charities. 

We are committed to ensuring that students from all backgrounds can benefit from the excellent education we have to offer. Over the coming months I will be working with colleagues across the sector to ensure that the report's recommendations are implemented.

Alice Wilby, Director of UK Recruitment and Partnerships

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.

Brookes Bridges is used as a case study, with the report noting the innovative project helps to “up-skill and re-skill adults who have previously left formal education and who are motivated to progress to further and higher education.”

Oxford Brookes has been running Brookes Bridges for seven years and earlier this year it received a national award for its ongoing successes. It is delivered by Oxford Brookes and partner colleges in partnership with local community groups and offers a variety of courses such as community journalism, IT skills, English language, study skills, leadership and degree tasters.  

Alice Wilby, who sat on the report’s practitioners’ reference group and is Director of UK Recruitment and Partnerships at Oxford Brookes, said: “I'm delighted that the report recognises the good practice in outreach work that we have at Oxford Brookes. We are committed to ensuring that students from all backgrounds can benefit from the excellent education we have to offer. Over the coming months I will be working with colleagues across the sector to ensure that the report's recommendations are implemented.”

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 full report is available to read on the Universities UK website.