Regulating access and participation

13 December 2018

Responding to publication of A new approach to regulating access and participation in English higher education, Sarah Stevens, Head of Policy at the Russell Group, said:

“Russell Group universities are committed to reducing gaps in access to higher education, and we therefore welcome the intention for the new regulatory approach to support ambitious efforts in this area. The move towards a more evidence-based approach should help identify the interventions which have most impact in boosting social mobility, and the sensible shift to multi-year plans with annual reporting will allow universities to plan strategically while remaining accountable for their progress.

“The regulator has set ambitious targets for eliminating equality gaps over the next twenty years and our universities will continue to play our part in delivering this agenda. We hope that today’s consultation response will be read as closely in Whitehall as it is on campus, with Ministers recognising that meeting these targets will depend on predictable and sustainable funding for UK higher education. Our universities currently spend an average £1,100 per student per year on programmes to widen participation, and we strongly urge the Government to protect this level of investment through its current review of university funding.

“In order to achieve these new targets, universities’ efforts need to be part of a wider programme to address the complex causes of inequality throughout the whole education system right from the early years.”


  • Russell Group universities spend over £270 million annually on initiatives to widen access and support success for disadvantaged students, and we have increased our funding by over 60% over the last six years for outreach activities, scholarships and bursaries for the most disadvantaged
  • between 2009/10 and 2016/17, the number of students eligible for free school meals at Russell Group universities more than doubled (increasing by over 130% from 910 to 2,150) 
  • nearly 8 out of 10 young people at Russell Group universities studying for a full-time first degree now come from a state school background
  • the number of UK students from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds accepted to study at Russell Group universities has steadily increased in recent years, rising from 23,105 in 2007/08 to 34,850 in 2016/17 –an increase of 51%
  • there is now greater representation of students from BME backgrounds at our universities than in the general young population across the UK: over 21% of our students are from BME backgrounds compared to 19% of young people from BME backgrounds in the UK population more generally
  • the gap in drop-out rates between young students from low participation neighbourhoods and others is smaller at Russell Group universities than for the sector as a whole (1.1 percentage points vs. 2.2 percentage points)
  • while there remains an attainment gap between BME and white students which our institutions are seeking to address, it is significantly smaller than at other HEIs (5 percentage points at Russell Group universities vs. 12 percentage points at other HEIs) and the gap is closing over time

To read our paper How Russell Group universities facilitate social mobility and for case studies of how universities are improving access, click here.

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