Widening Participation: Quo Vadis?

David Willetts has yet to spell out fully the new Government's approach to Widening Participation'. In a recent speech, he said: 'Widening participation, of course, goes hand in hand with diversity – not making every university conform to a standard model but allowing them to develop their own approaches to the various needs and ambitions of students.'

Part of the 'standard model' hitherto has been that WP funding should be channelled through universities (and Aimhigher). If the aim is to look at alternative approaches, we hope that agencies such as ours in the third sector may have the opportunity to bid for any future WP funding.

David Willetts may also have in mind the WP approach in the US. David Blanchflower (Professor of Economics at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire) suggests in the
New Statesman that higher fees could have a positive effect on widening participation by giving universities more cash to redistribute to the poor: 'About 50 per cent of Dartmouth undergraduates receive a scholarship. The average scholarship for the class of 2013 is $35,500, and the university awarded $63m in undergraduate scholarships in 2009. The school places special emphasis on those from less privileged backgrounds; roughly 14 per cent of scholarship students are the first generation in college and 33 per cent are from US minorities. Those whose family incomes are below $75,000 (£52,000) qualify for free tuition - 21 per cent of the present first-year class.'

We are very concerned about the impact of higher fees on the economically disadvantaged students we work with While it is true (so far) that fees have not been a significant disincentive to poor students, there will surely be a tipping point when higher fees start to narrow rather than widen HE participation.

Hugh Rayment-Pickard

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