Clear thought about access lost in row (2 of 4)

March 1, 2012

The debate around the appointment of the next director of fair access risks diverting attention from the successful efforts of all universities and colleges to widen access to higher education.

Academic performance is the biggest factor in determining whether someone is suitably qualified for higher education. At the same time, it is true that the outreach and other work that universities and colleges do with schools plays a vital role in raising aspirations and attainment.

The Office for Fair Access' role is to challenge and support the sector to do all it reasonably can to improve access to, and successful participation in, higher education (bearing in mind that many relevant factors are the primary responsibility of schools).

Institutions are diverse and we recognise that there can be no single approach to addressing the difficult issues of fair access and widening participation. That is why we ask universities and colleges to decide for themselves the detail of their access plans and the targets they set. As part of this, although Offa does not require them to do so, many already choose to make holistic assessments of applicants' ability and potential alongside their examination results in order to admit the best students whatever their background.

I am saddened that recent days have generated more heat than light and obscured the fact that much progress has been made. I know that my successor will continue to work with the sector towards the goal of fair access, to which everyone is committed.

Sir Martin Harris, Director of fair access

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