Joint strategy on widening access

A 'super' compact scheme is being considered by leading universities, Rebecca Attwood reports

October 2, 2008

Nine of England's most selective universities have welcomed a new government scheme to co-ordinate their work on widening participation, but have warned against a "one size fits all" model.

In an announcement rushed out to coincide with Universities Secretary John Denham's speech to the Labour Party conference, the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) said that Birmingham, Bristol, Exeter, King's College London, Leeds, Leicester, Newcastle, Southampton and Warwick universities had "agreed to extend opportunities for the best-performing students from the most challenging backgrounds".

Oxford and Cambridge said they had not been invited to take part. This week, details of the scheme had not been finalised.

Under one of a number of ideas currently being mooted, a student who has been through one university's widening participation scheme would be "guaranteed" an interview, or consideration of their work, if they then applied to another university in the group.

Adrian Randall, pro vice-chancellor for academic quality and students at the University of Birmingham, said: "The discussions between the initial nine universities and DIUS are currently at preliminary exploration stage - issues such as portability of programmes from one institution to another ... have yet to be agreed."

A member of widening-participation staff at one of the universities, who chose to remain anonymous, said they believed ministers were pushing for a "super" compact scheme, under which a student who had gained tariff points counting towards one university's entry requirements could transfer the credit to another university.

However, not all universities in the group have a compact scheme or progression accord.

Liz Murphy, student recruitment manager at the University of Exeter, said: "We don't have a compact (scheme). Our approach is to work hard to encourage applications from students who otherwise might not apply. I think the (national) scheme is an incredibly positive thing. I don't think there will be a 'one size fits all' model ... but there has got to be some common ground."

Under the University of Leeds' Access to Leeds programme, applicants who pass a special module may be made an offer two grades lower than the standard - for an AAA-entry course, they would therefore need to achieve ABB.

Ceri Nursaw, head of access and community engagement, said the data showed these students "really fly" by their third year, and many obtain 2:1s and first-class degrees.

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