We read with frustration Andrew Grice’s recent article in The Independent on Ucas’ refusal to release student data. Higher Education Access Tracker is a collaboration of more than 40 English universities working to evaluate the impact of fair access programmes. The article talks about “suspicions that higher education institutions would rather data be kept secret as it would expose their record on fair access”. This is unfair and certainly not the case for Heat member universities. Heat has been lobbying Ucas for two years to release student data for research purposes. We argue that the non-release of individual data – which allows us to link student background, outreach engagement and student outcomes – is an obstacle to robust research. Our university members are committed to the provision of research to help us understand what is effective in reducing the social class gap in student higher education participation and success.
Heat members recently tracked about 60,000 students who had participated in a range of university outreach programmes to find out if they subsequently entered higher education. More than three-quarters of these students had no parental background in higher education, and many were classified as disadvantaged. Some 32 per cent of disadvantaged students went on to higher education, and this compares with an average progression rate of 25 per cent for students from similar disadvantaged backgrounds. What’s more, Heat universities now know that the majority of outreach participants stay on and achieve their degree (89 per cent). Tracking outreach participants through to employment reveals that 79 per cent end up in a job classified as a higher level socio-economic occupation. We believe that this research is robust and provides evidence of the impact of the outreach activities that Heat universities are delivering each year to low-performing schools and colleges and disadvantaged students. We also know that this research would be even richer if Ucas would release individual data so that we could fully research the application behaviour of disadvantaged students, currently a missing part of the Heat research jigsaw.
Director, Higher Education Access Tracker