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Widening participation and equality

Widening participation strategies (WP) help underrepresented groups to access further or higher education to continue their education.

The traditional focus of WP is on socioeconomic disadvantage. However at their heart, both WP and equality and diversity are concerned with advancing equality of opportunity for disadvantaged groups throughout the student lifecycle. They both seek to address issues of access, retention or success for protected groups.

Historically, WP and equality and diversity have been delivered through separate strategies, but a more joined-up approach can take advantage of similar work and advance opportunity for students.

In 2012, ECU conducted research into how WP and equality and diversity work together in Scottish HEIs.

  • Many WP initiatives reach and support access of protected groups, sometimes inadvertently.
  • There are intersections between WP targeted groups and equality groups, for example there are overlaps with race and areas of deprivation.
  • Equality is beginning to be incorporated into access, retention and success strategy though outcome agreements with the Scottish Funding Council.

Access Agreements for English HEIs

In England, universities and colleges make access agreements with the Office of Fair Access (OFFA) relating to their widening participation, retention and attainment work.

OFFA encourages institutions to consider including work relating to equality and diversity in access agreements. Many have started to do so, for example in relation to outreach targeting minority ethnic groups, mature students, or women in science subjects, and support to increase retention and attainment of disabled students.

Outcome Agreements in Scottish Colleges and HEIs

The Scottish Funding Council (SFC) negotiates outcome agreements with colleges and HEIs  in Scotland. These agreements contain agreed targets and activity to progress national outcomes including widening access, retention and attainment.

SFC asks for equality and diversity to be considered as a ‘horizontal theme’ across outcome agreements.

See Outcome agreements for more information.

Related Publications

Access, retention and success: aligning widening participation and equality strategies

Bringing together widening participation and equality strategies to support students

Intersectionality in Scottish HEIs

Examining socioeconomic status and protected characteristics