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

OFFA appoints team for ethnicity targeting research project

The Office for Fair Access (OFFA) has today appointed a team led by the Higher Education Academy and the Runnymede Trust to research how widening participation activities in England can be targeted at young people from disadvantaged and under-represented ethnic groups.

The team, led by Professor Jacqueline Stevenson of the Higher Education Academy and Sheffield Hallam University [note 1], will analyse evidence from across the English higher education sector of existing practice in targeting activities at students from disadvantaged and under-represented ethnic groups, and produce a suite of practical guidance to support staff in a variety of different roles within universities and colleges in overcoming the challenges associated with this work.

The project aims in the long-term to challenge and support universities and colleges to do more to address the differences in higher education participation, attainment and progression to further study or employment that persist between students from different ethnic groups.

Commenting, Professor Les Ebdon, Director of Fair to Access to Higher Education, said:

“Black and minority ethnic (BME) students have been a key target group for OFFA for a number of years. But our research suggests that universities and colleges are struggling to target the activities they deliver through their access agreements where they are most needed.

“This project will help us understand how activities can be targeted appropriately and effectively towards students from disadvantaged and under-represented ethnic backgrounds, enabling OFFA to better support universities and colleges to accelerate progress in this crucial area.

“I am very pleased to have appointed such an experienced team for this important work. I hope this project – and others like it – will be taken forward in the Office for Students in an ongoing effort to improve evidence and support good practice in widening participation.”

Professor Jacqueline Stevenson added:

“We recognise that, across the sector, there are many institutions keen to address areas of inequality, but they may lack evidence-based examples of what works. We also know that there are institutions able to provide these examples. Our intention is not just to indicate the barriers institutions are facing, but also what they are able to do to address these entrenched and long-standing inequalities.”


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  1. Full project team:
    • Principal Investigator – Professor Jacqueline Stevenson, Associate and Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and Head of Research at the Sheffield Institute of Education, Sheffield Hallam University
    • Co-investigators – Dr Omar Khan, Director of the Runnymede Trust, and Dr Joan O’Mahony, Academic Lead for Retention and Success at the Higher Education Academy
    • Researchers – Bernie Stiell, Senior Research Fellow at Sheffield Hallam University, and Farhana Ghaffar, Widening Participation Research and Projects Officer at Oxford Brookes University