Academics will need to change the way they teach to take account of students from increasingly diverse backgrounds, according to a researcher leading a study into learning at university.
Chris Hockings of Wolverhampton University will investigate issues such as how knowledgeable staff are about their students' backgrounds and what expectations of university particular minority groups have.
Dr Hockings, senior researcher at the university's Centre for Learning and Teaching, said: "We are not just talking about the ethnic mix, but also the composition of disabled, mature and part-time students.
"At Wolverhampton, we have a wide and diverse body of students, and we want to look at how to engage them more effectively.
"We intend to study the different backgrounds our students come from and compare their expectations of university with the expectations that academics have of them. Our findings will help to improve retention rates."
At least 200 students from further education colleges will be interviewed as part of the study, which is a joint project between Wolverhampton and Birmingham University.
The project is one of six widening participation initiatives to be funded by a £1.6 million cash injection from the Teaching and Learning Research Programme from January.
The programme is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. The cash, which will be split between the projects, is for two years.
The six winning widening participation initiatives beat competition from 65 universities, some of which teamed up with further education colleges.
The other projects are based at the London School of Economics, Oxford, Manchester, Southampton, Cambridge and Birmingham universities.