Statement from social mobility charity CEOs following discussion on widening participation with Universities Minister

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We were very pleased that Sam Gyimah, Minister for Universities and Science, responded so quickly and so positively to the statement we issued on university access last week, following leaks from the government’s post 18 education funding review.

We are grateful to the Minister for his time this week; we had a constructive and wide-ranging discussion and he reiterated his commitment to closing the access gap.

Among the topics we discussed were the barriers that young people from disadvantaged backgrounds face in accessing HE; measuring the impact of widening participation activity and demonstrating what works; and the role of the third sector.

The Minister encouraged us to continue making the case for widening participation and assured us that it was a top priority for him.

Andrew Berwick, CEO, The Access Project

Anand Shukla, CEO, Brightside

Julie Randles, CEO, Causeway Education

Andy Ratcliffe, CEO, Impetus-PEF

Rachel Carr, CEO, IntoUniversity

John Craven, CEO, upReach

Statement from social mobility charity CEOs in response to proposals for changes to Higher Education funding

“Britain’s deep social mobility problem, for this generation of young people in particular, is getting worse not better.”Social Mobility Commission State of the Nation Report 2017.

Higher Education (HE) should be a route open to all young people, irrespective of background. But we have a big and persistent social mobility problem in the UK: young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are half as likely to progress to HE as their peers.

Widening Participation funding exists to help close this gap. This funding is vital to the work that we – alongside universities, the Office for Students and others – do to support young people from under-represented groups to progress to, and succeed in, HE. This funding is now in question.

Our request to government

  • Irrespective of what fee regime the review opts for, we call on the government to protect widening participation funding, while building on momentum around spending it effectively

  • We urge the government to avoid adding complexity to the higher education funding landscape and to ensure that all students have the information, advice and guidance they need to make good choices in HE

  • We urge the government to increase the amount of maintenance support available to young people, for instance by restoring maintenance grants, so that university is affordable for everyone

  • We urge the government not to impose a cap on student numbers

Rationale: We are concerned by reports that the government’s review of post-18 education funding is considering measures which could have a detrimental effect on social mobility.

Specifically:

The current student loan system is progressive as no fees are paid up front and loans are paid back contingent to income. Cutting fees to £6,500 would benefit higher earning graduates the most, as they would pay back less of the cost of their education than they do now. Addressing the cost of living, for example by restoring maintenance grants, would be a better way to encourage more young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to access HE.

Unless protected, a cut in fees to £6,500 could eliminate almost all the widening participation funding designed to close the access gap. This is because universities are currently required to spend a proportion of the fee income they receive if they charge fees above that amount on widening participation activities. Universities have already indicated that if fees are cut, they are unlikely to be able to fund their widening participation programmes. Clear arrangements for funding widening participation activity will be needed to replace this lost fee income.

In his speech on social mobility earlier this year, Secretary of State for Education Damian Hinds reminded us that “universities expect to spend £860 million to improve access and success for disadvantaged students, this is a lot of money and it needs to be spent well.”

We agree. The fact that millions are earmarked for poorer communities and students for whom university has not historically been an option is a seldom talked about good news story for the government. This money is being spent increasingly effectively, with better evaluation, an improved regulatory framework and the forthcoming evidence and impact exchange all adding to our ability to put these funds to good use.

As charities involved in access, we rigorously measure our impact and we know that our programmes are getting thousands of young people into and through HE who would not otherwise have had this opportunity. Now is not the time for government to turn its back on the funding we need to do this.

Irrespective of what fee regime the review opts for, we call on the government to protect widening participation funding, while building on the momentum around spending it effectively.

Differential fees would add another level of complexity to student choices in a HE landscape that is already complicated. Students from poorer backgrounds are less likely to receive the advice and guidance they need to make good choices about their course, and we believe there is a real risk that students from disadvantaged backgrounds could choose courses based purely on price, as opposed to the value they might deliver for them.

We urge the government to avoid adding complexity to the higher education funding landscape and to ensure that all students have the information, advice and guidance they need to make good choices in HE.

The affordability of university is a significant concern for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The current level of maintenance support is not sufficient to cover students’ living costs and contributions from parents to make up this gap are seldom an option for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

We urge the government to increase the amount of maintenance support available to young people, for instance by restoring maintenance grants, so that university is affordable for everyone.

A cap on the number of people going to university is a regressive measure which would hit disadvantaged students the hardest. These young people are less likely to apply, less likely to get in and less likely to graduate. A cap would also be bad for business and risks hampering our global competitiveness. The global trend is for countries to send more young people to university, not fewer.

We urge the government not to impose a cap on student numbers.

Andrew Berwick, CEO, The Access Project

Anand Shukla, CEO, Brightside

Julie Randles, CEO, Causeway Education

Andy Ratcliffe, CEO, Impetus-PEF

Rachel Carr, CEO, IntoUniversity

John Craven, CEO, upReach


Introducing Causeway Education

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HE Access Network (HEAN) announces that today, 8th January 2017, it’s changing its name to Causeway Education.

Founders Michael Englard and Sam Holmes set HEAN up in 2012 because, having worked in university admissions and teaching, they were frustrated that bright state-educated applicants were disadvantaged each year due to poor preparation.

Five years on there’s compelling evidence that HEAN’s work has made a measurable difference to the life chances of young people, including well-evidenced programmes developed in conjunction with the Sutton Trust.

Causeway Education’s new charitable status will allow it to extend its reach and improve the life chances of many more young people through the key educational transitions in their lives.

Julie Randles, Causeway Education’s CEO, said, “we believe it’s important that our work is free for end-users. This is true both for the young people who are expertly mentored through our programmes and for the state schools we support to provide the best possible outcomes for their students. As a charity we will develop partnerships with a broader range of individuals and organisations to enable us to do this.

“Our name change reflects this broader ambition. We want to make sure that every young person gets the best support they can through the key transitions in their education – whether that’s choosing A-levels, apprenticeships, or graduate employment.”

Causeway Education will be guided by its board of trustees, who between them have an extraordinary wealth of expertise in the education and charitable sectors.

Rob McMenemy, Chair of Trustees, said, “it’s a privilege to be involved with Causeway Education, and to be able to help young people reach their full potential. As the higher education landscape becomes ever more complicated and competitive, it’s increasingly important that students get the very best support they can, and the innovative work that Causeway Education does helps with exactly that. I’m really looking forward to working with the team to make a difference to young people.”

Notes

For more information, please contact Dave Sandford, Director of Communications, at dave.sandford@causeway.education, or 020 3808 5140.

Causeway Education is a charity that aims to improve the life chances of disadvantaged young people in the UK by supporting them through key educational transitions. You can find out more about our background at www.causeway.education/our-story

Causeway Education’s Academic Apprenticeship programme was found to increase a student’s chances of getting an offer from a Russell Group University in a study by the Sutton Trust in 2016 www.suttontrust.com/research-paper/making-a-statement/

Full details about our Board of Trustees can be found at www.causeway.education/our-trustees