Look beyond the elite

October 12, 2007

The Sutton Trust's report ("Elite few still fill universities", September 21) provides only a partial truth about participation because the research methodology was limited to looking at elite universities, defined as the top 13 from the league tables.

The Economic and Social Research Council has commissioned seven research projects to look at aspects of widening participation beyond elite universities and traditional academic pathways.

The projects use a range of quantitative and qualitative methods to uncover the diverse aspects of access and participation. They are revealing the complexity of the issues, which range from sociocultural background factors, including early childhood and family questions, to broader educational issues such as participation in vocational education, ways in which mathematically demanding subjects may affect access and participation, and how to sustain engagement once students reach university.

We are also considering how people make decisions about entry to higher education through "networks of intimacy". Our evidence shows that opportunities have widened over the past 20 years but that it is a stratified, differentiated and distributed system.

Miriam E. David

Associate director (higher education), ESRC Teaching and Learning Research Programme

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