Persuading non-traditional students to set foot on campus has always been one of the greatest stumbling blocks for widening participation programmes.
Lecturers at Leeds Metropolitan University are overcoming the problem by taking their programmes to the community.
Steve Molloy, head of the Centre for Lifelong Learning, said that offering potential students courses tailored to their own needs, and on their own doorstep, was the best way to overcome fears about university education.
"Endeavouring to meet the government's 50 per cent participation rate means getting programmes out to students in a way we've never done before," Mr Molloy said.
LMU has opened family learning centres around the poorest districts of Leeds. Its programme introduces students to generic study skills and offers credit equivalent to half a full university year. Personalised education and training programmes are on offer.
"Once students have taken this all-important first step, they are much more likely to come on to campus and take up further modules here," Mr Molloy said.
Learning can be supported in local community centres, in the workplace and at the university. In partnership with local further education colleges, there are plans for a growing range of programmes that, in effect, become an accelerated route to higher education.
More than 200 students are taking the community courses, and LMU has seen a steady increase in recruitment from low-income families since 1999.
"It will be up to them whether they decide to take their studies further and come to the university for further modules, but we are confident a significant proportion will want to do so," Mr Molloy said.
At LMU, 14 per cent of full-time undergraduates and 22 per cent of part-timers are from low-participation neighbourhoods and have no history of higher education in their family. Summer schools are often a first route in for non-traditional students.
Inder Hunjan is a senior officer and community adviser within the Office for Access and Lifelong Learning. She arrived in 1971 from Tanzania, where her grandparents had gone to work on the railways from their homeland of India.
Ms Hunjan now coordinates the Larkia summer school programme for Asian girls. Some 80 per cent of girls who have taken part in the programme have gone on to degree work.
One participant said: "It has been really good, informative. No one makes you feel you aren't clever enough to handle the work and help is there if you need it."