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Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

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This post is part of an ongoing series where I intend to develop my full personal (not institutional) response to the HE Green Paper. Comments are welcome to refine this.

The Green Paper asks in Question 12:

a) Do you agree with the proposals to further improve access and success for students from disadvantaged backgrounds and black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds? Please give reasons for your answer.

b) Do you agree that the Office for Students should have the power to set targets where providers are failing to make progress? Please give reasons for your answer.

c) What other groups or measures should the Government consider?

Provisional response:

a.) I think, in general, that the proposals to further improve access are laudable. I am, though, concerned about profiling of applicants to select only for those from disadvantaged backgrounds and black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds who possess the intersectional attributes of students who would succeed anyway, particularly at more selective institutions. These measures, therefore, have the potential to penalise institutions who offer the greatest degree of true access and opportunity. Care would have to be taken to ensure that sector-adjusted averages were also then applied within institutions to ensure that those from backgrounds with markedly lower access and success rates were both performing equally at the sector level but also at the institutional level. I also expressed concern in my response to question 1 about the false confidence in the name-blind policy.

b.) There is potential benefit in allowing the proposed Office for Students to set targets. However, any such targets would have to closely examine the different stages at which there may be problems. For instance, is the problem of access a result of lower applications? In this case, what is happening with the institution’s recruitment strategy? Is there a predominantly local demographic intake, for instance, in a geographical region of low ethnic diversity? If the problem is at the continuation stage, is the sample size of a cohort statistically significant after intake?

c.) The government should carefully consider part-time and mature students, who are given far too little time in the Green Paper but who represent a group who often struggle to access higher education.