Fair access –  or widening participation (WP) –  is an area of considerable interest in the UK’s higher education sector. Its impetus is on breaking down barriers that prevent people from diverse backgrounds from entering higher education, and flourishing when they do.

Those affected by such barriers vary from mature students to people from minority ethnic groups, people with disabilities, those from lower socio-economic groups, care leavers and caregivers, to being in the first generation in a family to attend university.

BU’s work in this area is unique to the sector; no other institution with an Access Agreement approved by the independent public body, the Office for Fair Access (now part of the Office for Students), has engaged academics to the same extent in the research and evaluation of access activity.

Our approach to this involves cross-professional working, extensive interdisciplinary collaboration, and involving students as co-creators. Our overarching strategy is to promote student equality, opportunity and achievement through establishing new ways of working in the field of widening participation research, practice and policy.

By learning and working together with students and colleagues from across the university and the higher education sector, we are building a community of practice for sharing experiences and expertise. This, in turn, can lead to a transferable methodology for the continued improvement required to meet the complex challenges facing widening participation.

Exploring the student lifecycle

The student lifecycle: admissions, continuation, experience, outreach and ways of working.

Underpinned by an ethos of inclusive education, a commitment to student engagement and practice-led research, the programme of Fair Access Research developed a series of innovative research projects exploring what it means to be a student in the 21st century.

These have explored different areas within the five stages of the student lifecycle: admissions, continuation, experience, outreach and ways of working. Through examining each of these stages, our multifaceted FAR team is developing an understanding of the challenges some students face in:

  • Accessing or succeeding at university
  • How university life is experienced by diverse groups of students
  • How the university can provide optimum support to these students when they are here.

You can read more about the research projects across each stage in our individual lifecycle pages.

Multifaceted expertise: a different way of working

Each member of the FAR team brings different expertise and experiences to the projects within the five core areas. By learning together with colleagues and students from across BU, we are establishing new ways of working and building a community who can collaborate to meet the complex challenges facing widening participation research, policy and practice.

As a result, FAR is inspiring new ways of thinking about fair access and how changes can be made through adopting a whole institution approach to make higher education an accessible and positive experience for all students.

Undergraduate researcher

FAR Project strand

It’s bizarre in a way. Everybody in the research was really different, but the core values were all the same.

Where did this project come from?

In 2014, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (now part of the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy) published the national strategy for access and student success (pdf 2.6mb). This was developed in partnership between the Office for Fair Access and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (the remits of which have since become part of the Office for Students). 

Accordingly, the government has called on the sector to work together to break down the barriers that prevent people from diverse backgrounds from entering and flourishing in higher education.

BU’s work in this area seeks to tackle that challenge. You can view our 2019–20 Access and Participation Plan (pdf 649kb) on the Office for Students website for more information about how we are performing in this area. This is also where you can view previous Access agreements approved by the Office for Fair Access.

Who benefits from FAR?

Complementing the wide range of stakeholders involved in our fair access research, the FAR project has the potential to benefit a variety of people across higher education.

This ranges from the students involved in workshops alongside practitioners and researchers, to wider society – from school engagement through to media and social media. You can visit our Centre for Fusion Learning, Innovation and Excellence (FLIE) blog for more stories about fair access and widening participation, or follow the FLIE Twitter account.

We are working with fair access experts within our university and across the sector, and our research outputs will be accessible beyond BU. This should benefit practitioners interested in collaborative research, admissions, enrolment, student data collection and analysis, retention and student support.

Related content