The Office for Fair Access closed at the end of 31 March 2018 and responsibility for higher education access regulation transferred to the Office for Students

Understanding a whole institution approach to widening participation

Project outcomes

This project concluded in October 2017. We commissioned Professor Liz Thomas to work closely with a range of different higher education providers. We published:

We will use this research to directly shape our guidance for universities and colleges to support the realisation of the recommendations in this research in their own contexts.

Our press release sets out OFFA’s position on this research.

Project aims

This project sought to improve understanding of what a successful ‘whole institution approach’ to widening participation looks like. It aimed to:

The overall goal of this project was to improve understanding around how a whole-institution approach is understood, realised and sustained in different contexts, so that universities and colleges can develop and implement effective ways to maximise the potential benefit of their widening participation work.

Why did we do this?

In recent years, OFFA’s guidance has encouraged universities and colleges to take a whole-institution approach in their access agreements. We have also challenged them to take an increasingly evidence-led approach to improving their performance, and committed to support that by working collaboratively with the sector to enhance our policies and guidance. This project is part of that commitment. Refining our understanding of a whole-institution approach will enable us to provide more consistent support.

This project was an opportunity to take stock of some longstanding policy approaches and encourage all those working in higher education to embed widening participation into the very fabric of the way we do things.

What happened?

Literature review and case study analysis

In January 2017, OFFA published an invitation to tender for a literature review and case study analysis. In February 2017, we commissioned Professor Liz Thomas of Liz Thomas Associates to take this work forward.  

Professor Thomas reviewed national and international research and policy from the past decade, and analysed a selection of case studies from across the English higher education sector to establish what practices currently exist in different institutional contexts. A participatory research workshop was also held to gather more evidence and test findings. From this, the best ways to implement, evaluation and evidence their approaches was established. 

Project team

Principal Investigator

Professor Liz Thomas, Director, Liz Thomas Associates Ltd.

Project Manager

Julie Frost, Senior Project Manager, Bedrock Associates Ltd.

Case study institutions

Aston University

Kingston University

Solihull College University Centre

The University of Sheffield

University of Worcester

What will happen next?

A series of follow up events and activity has been planned. This project was intended to be an exploratory study and it is hoped that further work can build on the findings in the future.

Want more information?

Contact Richard Shiner, OFFA Head of Evidence and Effective Practice on 0117 931 7171 or email richard.shiner@offa.org.uk