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One third of widening access targets missed by UK universities

12 May 2016 | last updated: 13 May 2016

UK universities are struggling to meet almost one third of high-level targets designed to widen access to higher education, according to a new report published today.

Responding to the latest outcomes report from regulatory body the Office of Fair Access (OFFA), UCU said it was disappointing to see that there had been no progress, or less progress than anticipated, on 30% of high-level targets for widening participation set by universities. The targets are a requirement for all institutions charging higher-level tuition fees.

The union said that a stronger push on access is required if government hopes to meet national social mobility targets by 2020, and called for a national inquiry on widening access and admissions reform to address persistent barriers to higher education.

UCU also said that the drop in part-time and mature students was a 'scandal' and urged the government to improve the support available for flexible learning opportunities. The report shows that the number of part-time learners has declined by 60% since 2006, while the number of mature students has halved over the same period. Only three-quarters (75%) of targets relating to mature students were met in 2014-15.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'It's very disappointing that so many high-level targets on access are being missed. Clearly there are still serious issues to be addressed and if social mobility targets are to be met by 2020, government urgently needs to make a stronger push on access. This should include a national inquiry on access and admissions reform which addresses persistent barriers to higher education.

'The missed targets on mature students are particularly worrying. The rapid decline in part-time and mature learners is a scandal and points to a serious failure of the student finance system to meet different needs. Government must do more to support flexible learning opportunities which are so vital for people with family and caring responsibilities, or who want to study alongside their job.'

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