Bringing back the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) and funding a strong colleges sector would be the best way to improve access to higher education for deprived students, the NUS students' union has said.
Vice-president for further education at the NUS Emily Chapman made the comments following a move by two colleges at the University of Oxford to consider joining Lady Margaret Hall (LMH) college in offering free foundation years for students from less well-off backgrounds.
The LMH Foundation Year is a fully funded course aiming to widen access by taking on academically able students from under-represented groups and, through a combination of academic and personal support, enabling them to fulfil their academic potential.
Ms Chapman said access to education should never be determined by background or circumstance. She added: “To further support improving access to universities, policymakers must commit to a reformed EMA, resourcing a strong and comprehensive further education sector and working with schools, colleges and other universities to promote cross-sector partnerships.”
Helping disadvantaged students
Sutton Trust director of research and communications Conor Ryan said universities needed to consider more radical options to improve access.
“Contextual admissions have an important role to play, but they should be open and transparent. Foundation years can also be a valuable way to support able students who need extra support before starting a full course,” he added.
A spokesman for the University of Oxford said that it has a range of outreach initiatives undertaken by both the colleges and the central university designed to attract and support under-represented groups.
He added: “We are encouraged by the results of the first cohorts of foundation year students at Lady Margaret Hall, and will continue to work with colleges, departments and our own students to diversify Oxford’s undergraduate intake.”
Clare Marchant, chief executive of Ucas, said in December that gaps in participation remained wide after figures from the end-of-cycle 2017 report showed that the gap between entry rates for the most advantaged and most disadvantaged pupils had grown last year.