'Concern' over access spending statements

January 15, 2009

A new requirement for universities to report how much they spend on their efforts to widen participation could result in "gameplaying", it has been claimed.

This week, the Higher Education Funding Council for England set out details of the information that institutions will have to submit in new "widening participation strategic assessment" reports.

But the guidance came as a report of the last meeting of Hefce's Widening Access and Participation Strategic Advisory Committee said there were "some concerns" about the request for information on how much universities spend.

"It was suggested that this might result in 'gameplaying' by institutions. There was also a concern that there would be no comparability across institutions as they would all cost their activity differently," the report says.

"It was further suggested that the cost of an activity would not necessarily reflect its effectiveness and that some interventions could be undertaken at a very low cost but be highly valuable."

According to the Hefce guidance, in their strategic assessments institutions must state the place of widening participation in their mission, list their widening participation activities and detail their costs, and outline targets for the next three years. Universities that have not reached their targets on recruiting students from poor backgrounds will need to explain their strategies to address this.

The document should also include a statement "showing how the institution will ensure transparency, consistency and fairness" in admissions and illustrating how this contributes to its widening participation strategies.

The assessments must be submitted by 30 June. Institutions will have to submit a progress report each December. Institutions that fail to do this will have their widening participation funding suspended for the following academic year.

rebecca.attwood@tsleducation.com.

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