Education Secretary challenges universities to increase access and decrease drop outs

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has called upon universities, including the most selective, to do more to improve access to disadvantaged students and reduce drop out numbers.

Despite record numbers of disadvantaged students starting university this year, data from the Office for Students (OfS) has found students from mainstream state school in the most advantaged areas are more than twice as likely to take up higher education than those from the most disadvantaged areas.  2016/17 data published earlier this year also suggest that disadvantaged students are more likely to drop out of university in their first year, in comparison to their better off peers, and that this gap has slightly widened compared with 2015/16.

Mr Williamson recently commented that 41 universities have published access and participation plans for 2020/21 onwards and those yet to publish their plans will be asked to do so in due course.  After the transitional approach in 2019/20, these are the first plans to be approved under the latest OfS guidance.  The Education Secretary emphasised that the OfS will monitor all providers closely to ensure they follow through on their plans.

Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, has confirmed he fully supports the OfS in taking action if providers fail to do all they can to deliver on their commitments.  He added that “Dropouts will be a key focus of mine…and I will be watching carefully to see how universities respond to this challenge”.   

The overarching message of Mr Williamson’s announcement was his determination to take action to ensure that every student choosing to go to university – regardless of background – is supported to get the most out of the experience.  His message is clear: “up your game and get on with it”.

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