Universities in ‘bunfight’ over schools that offer rich pickings for outreach

Pupils in isolated areas miss out as collaborative spirit of Aimhigher era fades, says study

December 22, 2015
Archer aiming bow and arrow at target
Source: Alamy

Universities are focusing their outreach efforts on schools that are perceived to offer easy access to bright, poor students, meaning that pupils in isolated areas miss out.

That is according to former directors of the Aimhigher network of outreach programmes, who said in interviews that they believed that any spirit of collaboration between English institutions was swiftly extinguished after the initiative was scrapped in 2011.

Under Aimhigher, researchers from the University of the West of England write, institutions had been happy to share responsibility for widening participation and to focus their efforts on particular areas or disciplines, in the understanding that the overall pool of applicants would grow.

Now, according to the 10 interviewees, multiple universities are targeting schools that offer “easy gains” towards meeting targets set in their access agreements.

This means that not only are rural and coastal areas missing out, but that efforts to widen the pool of applicants have been set aside in favour of taking the biggest catch from that pool, the report says.

Neil Harrison, senior lecturer in education at UWE, said that universities were locked in a “bunfight” for the most attractive students.

“We have gone from a managed market to a free-for-all, and that is not to the benefit of young people,” Dr Harrison said. “Some schools are now being targeted by five, six or 10 universities because they are deemed to be where able but disadvantaged young people are to be found, whereas other schools in more remote areas or in deeply deprived areas are not getting that treatment at all.”

The creation of National Networks for Collaborative Outreach represents an attempt to re-establish the collaborative approach of Aimhigher, but Dr Harrison – who conducted the study with colleagues Richard Waller and Kathryn Last – said that it was unclear whether they had the budgets to be successful. Their funding expires at the end of 2015-16.

The directors did not pretend that Aimhigher itself had been without its shortcomings, with the accountability of money that was passed directly to schools being an area of particular concern.

“It was like [pouring] water on to sand,” one interviewee said.


You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments


Print headline: Universities in ‘bunfight’ over easy outreach hits

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

University of Oxford students walking on campus

University of Oxford snatches top spot from Caltech in this year’s World University Rankings as Asia’s rise continues

Home secretary says government will support 'best' universities

Man handing microphone to audience member

Academic attainment of disadvantaged students can be improved if they can decide how they are assessed, study claims

Italy's gold medallist

New measures to ensure universities are ‘not penalised’ for taking poorer students also outlined for next stage of TEF

Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir meeting over coffee

Claims for genius require more than repeated assertion to make the case, says Martin Cohen