Higher education

Consultation launches on ‘risk register’ for HE colleges and universities

Office for Students says colleges and universities will be expected to evidence potential risks to equality

Office for Students says colleges and universities will be expected to evidence potential risks to equality

Plans have been unveiled by the Office for Students to develop a “risk register” for higher education colleges and universities, in a bid to ensure equality of opportunities.

The OfS has launched a five-week consultation on the proposals for an Equality of Opportunity Risk Register (EORR), which it said would regulate equality of opportunities, which could include assessing numbers of disadvantaged students, attainment gaps and non-traditional routes into higher education such as apprenticeships.

The regulatory body for higher education said that it expects universities and colleges delivering HE courses to consider the register when they set their plans for access and participation.

It warned that credible evidence will need to be demonstrated, with establishments needing to significantly improve the volume and quality of their evaluation work, and work more closely with schools to ensure fair access to higher education.

The OfS said it would move away from a system of national equality targets and instead encourage providers to assess their own efforts and outline measures to mitigate risks to equality of opportunity, including measurable numerical targets.

Access and participation plans will be expected to cover a year, with approval rolling over each subsequent year up to a maximum of three.

It said the lengthened duration of plans will allow establishments to look at longer-term activity.

The OfS reported that it expects to set out next steps in spring next year, with the register and improved plans coming into effect from 2024/25 onwards.

Schools, students, universities and colleges are all invited to share their thoughts, ahead of the November 10 midday deadline.

OfS director for fair access and participation John Blake, who set out early details last week, said the register will “provide a framework for support sector-wide collaboration which highlights effective practice and identified where improvement is needed”.

He added that it will help “identify and tackle barriers” through a student’s journey to ensure that “choice not chance determines who access and succeeds”.

The register will likely be updated annually, the OfS report said, and include information on identified risks, the students who may be affected, and evidence and assessment of the impacts.

The consultation report said some students may have experienced inequality, citing black students who are less likely to achieve a 2:1 or first than white students, disabled students and those from low income or low participation areas.

The OfS said current access and participation plans are focused on a list of target groups, which included mature students; those from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds; those from lower household incomes; care leavers; and Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.

The new plans, the OfS said, would broaden the definition of who may be included and what risks there may be.

Skills minister Andrea Jenkyns said: “Real social mobility is about more than just getting students through the door – we want universities and colleges to reboot their access and participation plans in order to boost attainment, cut dropout rates and support students with high-quality courses.”

To take part in the consultation visit the website here.

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