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Report released outlining 35 steps that will dramatically improve access to higher education

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The Higher Education Policy Institute has released a report outlining how to make higher education more inclusive and accessible.

The report which consists of a 35-point plan is divided into sections which are based on the different perspectives of the people who contributed. People who gave opinions in this report range from academics, students and schools to politicians, think tanks and journalists.

Through this wide-ranging collection of perspectives, the report highlights several steps that could be taken to help improve the accessibility of higher education.

Several of the most important steps outlined were fighting unconscious biases, increasing access to scholarships and ensuring students are aware of all their higher education options.

One contributor who features in the academia section of the report is Kalwant Bhopal, a Professor of Education and Social Justice at the University of Birmingham. “Too many institutions invest heavily in delivering narratives of their commitment to social justice rather than addressing actual problems,” he said.

Bhopal discusses the idea that minority students are at a disadvantage already, stating how he feels faculty and staff members claiming to be unaware of discrimination is no longer sufficient. To help combat this issue, he suggests introducing mandatory unconscious bias training. He also talked about this unconscious bias existing in internship opportunities, work placements and study abroad experiences.

The academia section covers disparities in socioeconomic status and mental health, in addition to racial and ethnic ones, with the student perspective section going into further depth about economic issues.

Summer Dolan, a student at Northumbria University, talks about how vital easy access to scholarship searches is. “For more low-income students to enter higher education, they have to want to go to university in the first place,” she said.

She suggests integrating scholarship and grant access into the application process through the Universities and College Admissions Service because it already gathers much of the relevant data, such as household earnings and field of study.

The student perspective also emphasizes the idea of intersectionality, outlining the need to focus on students holistically, rather than isolating one factor, such as race or gender.

The main method that schools and colleges suggested to increase access to higher education was to train staff more thoroughly about options. This particular section focused on alternate higher education options other than universities and said people should be trained and knowledgeable about each of these.

Politicians also expressed this need to talk about options other than university and provide support for all choices.

Rt. Hon. Robert Halfon MP, the Chair of the Education Select Committee, talked about the need to rebalance academic and technical paths. “We should end the divide between technical and academic education and rather see them as intertwined: two parts of the same system of self-improvement and both equally well supported,” he said.

Meanwhile employers point to unpaid internships and work experiences as barriers to inclusion. They also expressed concern over the decreasing number of part-time students, highligting how these are barriers that should be addressed in an effort to increase higher education access.

In addition to providing the 35-point plan of steps, the report also reiterates the importance of progress. “It is essential we do not go backwards. It is critically important we continue to make at least as much progress in the future as in the past,” the report states. Adding: “Social circumstances should never lead to a cap on potential.”

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