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  • Paper No: ADEC/09/36





    The Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) advised the University (May 2009) that Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) would be required to submit annual Widening Participation Strategic Assessments, the first of which would be due in December 2009.

    To facilitate completion of the initial Strategic Assessment, and to revise the Universitys current Widening Access and Participation Strategy, a Working Group was established, under the Chairmanship of Professor Bob Osborne.

    The remit of the Working Group was to:

    develop a revised Widening Access and Participation Strategy for the period 2009/10 to 2011/12, taking account of the recommendations set out in the Universitys Widening Participation Audit Report 2007;

    produce the Universitys Widening Participation Strategic Assessment, in line with HEFCE/OFFA/DEL guidelines;

    establish monitoring mechanisms to enable compliance with HEFCE/DEL/OFFA annual reporting requirements.

    VCAG (21/09/09) approved the proposed structure of the Assessment, the revised Widening Access and Participation Strategic Aims and the indicative content of the financial report.

    The revised Widening Access and Participation Strategy (Section A, Paragraphs 12 to 17) has been screened according to the requirements of the University's Equality Scheme and Section 75 and has been screened out. It will also be included in the annual consultation on the screening of new and revised policies.

    Action required by ADEC

    The Committee is asked to comment on the draft Assessment, with regard to the DEL Framework provided in Appendix 1.



    This report presents the Universitys revised Widening Access and Participation Strategy for the period 2009/10 to 2011/12 and considers the progress made to date.

    Widening Participation (and/or Access) is defined by the University as:

    Activities designed to increase the participation in Higher Education of those from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds, other groups not represented proportionately amongst the Higher Education population, and those with disabilities.


    Mission, Management and Culture

    1.The University of Ulster has a long standing commitment to widening access to Higher Education (HE) and has an excellent track record in attracting students from both traditional educational backgrounds and those with non-traditional qualifications. For example, in 2007/08 the Universitys representation of those from NS-SEC 4-7 amongst full-time undergraduate entrants was 46.5% against a benchmark figure of 33.9%. (Appendix 2 sets out the Universitys position with regard to the HESA key performance indicators in greater detail).

    2.The Universitys Vision to be a University with a national and international reputation for excellence, innovation and regional engagement indicates the commitment to be a major contributor to the economic, social and cultural advancement of Northern Ireland (NI) as a region. To achieve its Vision the University has, in its Corporate Plan 2006/08 to 2010/11, set five core strategic aims, one of which is to Maintain the Universitys position as a sector leader in widening access to Higher Education. (

    3.Widening access and participation is an integral part of the Universitys Teaching and Learning Strategy as one of its four strategic aims To target, recruit, support and retain a diverse range of students.


    Specifically the Strategy identifies the need to:

    promote outreach activities to raise aspirations of potential applicants and improve the number of applications from traditionally disadvantaged and excluded communities;

    support inclusivity and diversity to underpin all aspects of the student experience, from pre-arrival to graduation.


  • 4.The University manages Widening Access and Participation through a clear managerial and reporting structure. The Pro-Vice Chancellor (Teaching and Learning) has direct responsibility for this area of activity and, following an internal Widening Access Audit (with External advice), established a Widening Access and Participation sub-committee of the Academic Development and Enhancement Committee (ADEC). The ADEC reports to Senate and, when appropriate, to the Council of the University.

    5.A comprehensive communication strategy is being devised to ensure that the Universitys Widening Participation ambitions and actions are clearly defined, well known and understood, both within the University and by key external stakeholders.

    6.The day-to-day practical operation of activities undertaken to progress the Widening Access and Participation agenda are the responsibility of the Access and Distributed Learning Division. This division has a University wide remit in promoting and supporting flexible and distributed access to HE, thus making university study more accessible to both young people and adults, locally, nationally and internationally. Working with Faculties, local industry, schools, collaborative partner institutions and the community, the Access and Distributed Learning Division aims to provide and promote a range of educational opportunities which support learning for all of your life.

    7.The work of Access and Distributed Learning takes place in three distinct areas:

    Access and Educational Partnerships is particularly focussed on widening access and widening participation in HE, thus ensuring that the Institution realises its commitment to the social inclusion agenda;

    Lifelong Learning aims to respond both to evolving Government policy and the needs of the local community by providing a diverse range of flexible learning opportunities;

    Technology Facilitated Learning focuses on the exploitation of advances in information and communications technologies to deliver more flexible and inclusive learning opportunities, thus improving opportunities for access to learning and enhancing the student learning experience.

    8.Widening access and fair participation lie at the heart of the Universitys business and we encourage all those who can benefit from the Universitys courses to apply. We aim to equip all those who undertake study at the University with the opportunity to gain the skills not only to successfully graduate but to secure rewarding employment. We have a long track record of opening up HE opportunities to some of the most disadvantaged sectors of society but there remain some social groups (as identified in Paragraph 65) and those from the geographically most deprived areas whose participation remains below other groups and communities.

    9.The Universitys Student Charter outlines what a student at Ulster can expect from the Institution and is balanced by the responsibilities placed on the student. There are a number of Support Charters, covering areas such as Teaching and Learning


  • and Student Support. These are reviewed annually and can be viewed at

    10.In accordance with the requirements of Section 75 of the NI Act of 1998, the University is obliged to promote good relations between persons of different religious belief, political opinion and racial group. A Good Relations Audit was completed in 2007, in conjunction with all other Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in Northern Ireland. As a result of this, the University is developing a Good Relations Strategy and Action Plan. The actions outlined in the plan will enhance the Universitys commitment to provide a welcoming and inclusive environment for all students. The University's Equality and Diversity Services Department also continues to submit an annual progress report on Section 75, including the good relations duty, to the Equality Commission for NI.

    Strategic Objectives and Aims for Widening Access and Participation

    11.During the academic years 2007-08 and 2008-09 the University undertook a Widening Access Audit (see above) and revised its Access Agreement. It is in the light of these activities that a decision was taken to revise its overall Widening Access and Participation Strategy. Hence, the Strategy outlined here represents the new University Widening Access and Participation Strategy while the Assessment of Activities reflects both on the pre-existing strategy and those activities generated by the Audit and revised Access Agreement. The specific goals of the University of Ulster in Widening Access are detailed in Paragraphs 12 to 17 below.

    Strategic Aim 1

    12.To raise aspirations and encourage a positive attitude towards educational progression and ultimately participation in HE especially amongst communities and social groups not traditionally associated with third level education.

    Key Supporting Objectives:

    To develop and support a range of outreach activities to raise the aspiration of potential applicants;

    To provide a variety of safe yet challenging learning environments that encourage students to engage and progress;

    To strengthen links with community and voluntary organisatio

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