Bournemouth University’s pioneering Fair Access Research project sees academics from a variety of disciplines working with students, SUBU, student support services and widening participation (WP) practitioners to develop and expand knowledge and expertise in the field of fair access to higher education.

This large collaborative research study is being led by Dr Vanessa Heaslip and Dr Clive Hunt, and forms part of the research being undertaken in the Centre for Fusion Learning, Innovation and Excellence.

Drawing on the expertise of our research team (ranging from nursing to engineering), the Fair Access Research project seeks to understand more fully the complex intersections that are at play when it comes to participation in higher education, and to develop ways to enhance positive student experiences.

Underpinned by an ethos of inclusive education, a commitment to student engagement and practice-led research, our Fair Access Research team will learn from the expertise and experiences of students and colleagues to understand what issues arise across the student journey for disadvantaged and marginalised learners.

Our research pays particular attention to students with the following WP characteristics:

  • Mature students
  • Disability
  • Ethnic origin
  • Gender
  • First generation to attend university
  • Socio-economic groups
  • Lower participating neighbourhoods
  • Care leavers.

By examining the experiences of these students, we aim to establish practical ways to promote opportunities, equality and achievement for all students at BU.

The aims and structure of our research

We understand fair access to encompass the whole student experience. So, we are working closely with colleagues at BU to find out:

  • If there are differences in applications and enrollments for students from WP backgrounds
  • If there are any differences in rates of retention for students from different backgrounds
  • Whether there are differences in attainment and degree outcome for students from WP backgrounds
  • How student background affects student experiences at BU.

Once we understand whether there are any differences in participation, we can investigate particular areas in more depth and undertake action research to make positive changes to enhance experience for all students.

This systematic, multi-year study will employ innovative research methods drawn from different disciplines and see students taking part in the co-creation of knowledge to contribute to the understanding of fair access to higher education.

This collaborative practice-led research will shape long-term strategies to support disadvantaged and marginalised learners across the whole student journey.

We will produce a series of research outputs, blog posts, and resources to build the knowledge and understanding of fair access. This can better inform policy makers and practitioners to deliver effective support to make higher education fairer.