Research in the news: how can research help improve access to higher education?

Bournemouth university is undertaking a large collaborative research study,  exploring issues of access to higher education, led by Dr Vanessa Heaslip and Dr Clive Hunt.

An article has been published in the Times Higher Education drawing on research published by academics from the project and the University of Liverpool in the influential Journal of Widening Participation and Lifelong Learning.

Below, lead author, Dr Alex Wardrop, takes some time to reflect on the research:

We wanted to find out how universities and colleges use research as part of their plans to widen participation and open up higher education to people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

One of the central findings emerging from our analysis is that while national policy is leading to more institutions mentioning research as part of their Access Agreements, it tends to be in the context of justifying spending rather than leading to significant behaviour change.

The most recent strategic guidance from the Office for Fair Access emphasised the importance of building a community of practice across institutions, with practitioners and academics working and learning together to understand effective practice and the impact of interventions.

By engaging with research, reflecting on how we all work, learning from each other and listening to the experiences of students, we believe that the HE sector can do so much more for those who remain marginalised in our education system and society.

Our analysis in the article presents a broad look at how research is being engaged with as part of institutional policies. We argue that for widening participation to work for social justice, it must be embedded across institutions. Dr Maggie Hutchings and I are now researching this in much more detail. We are exploring how the ideas, rhetoric and policies of widening participation are being learnt  differently in different organisations.

To contribute to this research and share your learning, please complete our survey for the sector to help understand this more. We are really privileged to be going up to Liverpool over the coming weeks to do some fieldwork with colleagues from a whole host of different organisations.

For more information about the Fair Access Research project please email the Principal Investigators Dr Vanessa Heaslip ( and Dr Clive Hunt (