Access and Widening Participation


Widening Participation groups

Below are details of some of the criteria and groups mentioned in the widening participation eligibility criteria.

Students from Low Participation Neighbourhoods 

What is a Low Participation Neighbourhood? 

Low Participation Neighbourhoods are considered to be those falling in the first quintile (Q1) of the POLAR4 measure. POLAR (Participation of Local Areas) is a measure of participation in higher education.  It classifies local areas into five groups by quintile based on the proportion of young people in that area who enter higher education aged 18 or 19. Q1 areas represent the lowest participation rates, while Q5 areas have the highest level of participation in HE.  

Why are students from Low Participation Neighbourhoods a WP target group? 

In 2017/18, UCL’s ratio of POLAR4 Q5:Q1 students was 14:1, representing a large gap in intake but one which reflects the fact that around 50% of UCL undergraduates are from London, where only 1.3% of wards are categorised as Q1 areas. UCL students from POLAR4 Q1 are as likely as to get a 1st class or 2:1 degree as peers in other POLAR4 quintiles, according to our Access and Participation plan. 

Students from areas with high levels of deprivation 

What measures are used to identify areas of high deprivation? 

We use IMD (Index of Multiple Deprivation) data to identify areas of high economic deprivation.  

IMD is a measure of deprivation which takes into account income, employment rates, education levels, health, crime, barriers to housing and services and quality of living environment in an area. When considered in quintile groups, 22.5% of London neighbourhoods under IMD fall into Q1 (the most deprived areas).  

Why are students from areas of high deprivation a WP target group? 

Intake of IMD Q1 students at UCL is rising but a gap remains between intake from Q1 and Q5 applicants. There is a gap in attainment for students from lower IMD quintiles (Q1 and Q2), who are less likely than IMD Q3-5 peers to graduate with a 1st or a 2:1. 

Black African and Black Caribbean Students 

Why are Black African and Black Caribbean students a WP target group? 

The UCL Access and Participation Plan notes that there are no significant difference in the proportion of students from White background and from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds entering UCL. 

However, among UK domiciled students, there is evidence of both an attainment gap and an underrepresentation of our local population for Black African and Black Caribbean students. In 2017/18, 5.4% of UCL’s intake were Black students – this was higher than the national proportion of Black 18 year olds, which was (3.6%). However, a large proportion of the UCL intake is drawn from London, where 14% of the 16-24 year old population in the 2011 census were Black, so UCL’s current intake is not representative of the city’s population. 

The Access and Participation Plan also identifies an attainment gap between White and Black students. The difference in the proportion of Black students and White students gaining 1st or 2:1 degrees, widened between 2013-4 and 2017-18 when it stood at 14.2%. 

Students from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities 

Why are students from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities a WP target group? 

According to the OfS, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils have the lowest attainment rates in school of all ethnic groups, which in turn impacts on their access to higher education opportunities. Pupils from these backgrounds are also more likely to be excluded from school.  

Only around 3% of 18-30 year olds from these backgrounds in the UK have completed an HE qualification, which is far below the rate in the general population (around 43%). Many students from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities will be the first generation of their family to enter higher education and there may be a lack of understanding among these communities in how to access higher education and how to support young people in the process. 

King’s College London has produced a series of videos with Rural Media, showing the perspectives of six people from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities who have attended university. 

Commuter Students 

Who are commuter students? 

Commuter students are students who reside in private accommodation or in the home of a parent/guardian and who commute into UCL from London Zone 3 or beyond and/or who have a journey to campus which exceeds 45 minutes. They make up around a quarter of UCL students. Commuter students are also more likely to belong to other groups who might face additional obstacles in accessing Higher Education. 

Why are commuter students a WP target group? 

The travel involved in commuting to university can be time consuming and tiring and students may feel they are missing out on the full university experience.  Transport delays and disruptions in London may impact on attendance and punctuality. It may be more difficult for these students to access academic, extracurricular or social events which are first thing in the morning or in the evening. Travelling as a commuter student in London can also be costly, which has a particular impact where commuter students are from lower income households. 

This 2019 report from London Higher offers further insight into students’ feelings about commuting and studying in London and some of the difficulties that are faced by this group. 

Disabled Students 

Who are disabled students? 

In the context of pre-entry Widening Participation activities, students are considered as disabled if they have one or more the following conditions/impairments: 

  • Visual impairments (blind or partially sighted) 
  • Hearing impairments (deaf or hard of hearing) 
  • Specific learning difficulties (e.g. dyslexia or dyspraxia) 
  • Autistic spectrum conditions 
  • Mental health difficulties 
  • Mobility difficulties 
  • Long-term health conditions 
  • ADD or ADHD 

Why are disabled students a WP target group? 

Disabled students may face a number of obstacles in accessing or benefitting fully from Higher Education: 

  • They may encounter negative and discriminatory attitudes towards disabled people from students or staff 
  • The physical environment on campus may not be fully accessible  
  • Aspects of the way a course is delivered or assessed may not meet their needs.  
  • Some disabled students may face additional financial costs (e.g. purchasing specialist equipment) 

In 2019-20, 16% of students in the UK had a known disability, according to HESA data. However, UCL’s data for the same period indicates that 8.9% of UCL students had declared a disability, below the sector average. 

The OfS has set a target to eliminate the gap in degree outcomes (the number of students being awarded 1st class or 2:1 degrees) between disabled students and non-disabled students by 2024-25.  

Estranged Students 

Who are estranged students? 

Estranged students are those who no longer have a relationship with their parents and family network. There are many reasons why a young person may become estranged from their family, which could include (but are not limited to): 

  • Being homeless or at risk of homelessness 
  • Being a victim of abuse by family members 
  • Having experienced or been threatened with “honour-based” violence or forced marriage 
  • Being disowned or rejected because of life choices which their parents or family disagree with 

Why are estranged students a WP target group? 

According to research by the Stand Alone organisation, estranged students are three times more likely to drop out of university and they may lack the financial and emotional support that other students receive from their families. Over 70% of estranged students report experiencing isolation at least once during their time at university. 

Some estranged students spend Christmas alone and some may face homelessness during the summer period if university accommodation or student rental contracts are not available or unaffordable, as they have no family home to return to.  Large deposits or pre-payments can be a barrier for estranged students who may not have access to this amount of money, particularly before they receive a student loan payment. It is also more difficult for an estranged student to find a guarantor for private rentals. Estranged students may also face extra difficulties if they cannot find employment immediately after graduating. 

Estranged students can receive additional financial support from Student Finance but the process of evidencing their estrangement can be complicated, time-consuming and emotionally difficult. There can be a lot of stigma around family estrangement and it can be difficult for students who are estranged to speak about this with others. 

This video, produced by the BBC, offers an insight into the experience of an estranged student at university. 

UCL is one of many HE institutions in the UK who have taken the Stand Alone pledge to help estranged students. The Stand Alone organisation’s website has excellent information on the range of challenges faced by estranged students. 

Mature Students 

Who are mature students? 

Mature students are those who are 21 years or older on the day they start their first undergraduate degree. 

Why are mature students a WP target group? 

There has been a 22% decline, according to the OfS, in the number of mature students entering higher education from 2020-11 and 2018-19. 

Mature students are more likely to be from groups who are otherwise underrepresented or disadvantaged in Higher Education. Mature students are more likely to be Black, Asian or from another minority ethnic group, more likely to be disabled and more likely to have non-traditional qualifications for university entrance than their younger counterparts. 

Mature students are more likely to drop out of their course and they have poorer degree outcomes on full-time courses than younger students, with fewer full-time mature students graduating with a 1st or 2:1.  

Care-Experienced Students 

Who are care-experienced students? 

UCL uses the term “care-experienced” to refer to students who have experienced any of a range of local authority care settings, including: 

  • living with foster carers 
  • living in a residential children’s home 
  • being looked after at home under a supervision order 
  • living with friends or relatives in kinship care, whether through a Special Guardianship order or via an informal arrangements 

The term also includes young people who may have experienced short periods of local authority care or who may have left local authority care through adoption. 

Why are care-experienced students a WP target group? 

Analysis in the Access and Participation Plan shows an average gap of 19% in continuation rates between care leavers and other students, indicating that care-experienced students may be more at risk of dropping out of higher education. 

Care-experienced students have poorer average educational outcomes than the general population and are underrepresented in higher education. Care-experienced students are more likely to have lower school attainment at Key Stage 4 (GCSE level). They may lack the kind of financial, emotional and practical support that other students receive from parents and family and a lack of information and advice when applying to higher education. Accommodation can be a difficult issue for care-experienced students, particularly in the summer period when they may not have a family home to return to. 

Some care-experienced students receive statutory support from their local authority in accessing higher education, but others may not fit official definitions of ‘care leavers’ and so may not have recourse to this type of support. 

Forced Migrant Students 

Who are forced migrant students? 

UCL uses the term “forced migrant” to mean one of the following: 

  • Refugee 
  • Asylum seeker 
  • Those who have been granted a temporary form of leave as the result of an asylum or human rights application (e.g. limited leave to remain, discretionary leave to remain, humanitarian protection, UASC leave) 

Why are forced migrant students a WP target group? 

Forced migrants face a number of barriers to accessing and participating in Higher Education, which include: 

  • Uncertainty over immigration status and their right to study 
  • Concerns over tuition fees and their access to student finance 
  • Language and cultural barriers 
  • Issues with the validation of previous qualification for university entrance 

Students with Caring Responsibilities 

Who are students with caring responsibilities? 

Students with caring responsibilities act as an unpaid carer for a friend or family member who, due to illness, disability, addiction or a mental health condition, cannot cope without their support. 

There is no definitive data on the number of students with caring responsibilities currently in Higher Education, but there are over 375,000 young adult carers (aged 14-25) in the UK, according to the Carers’ Trust. 

Why are students with caring responsibilities a WP target group? 

Students with caring responsibilities may have difficulties balancing these responsibilities alongside academic commitments. This group also have a high level of self-reported mental health problems, according to the OfS. Their caring responsibilities may mean that they are more likely to have issues with attendance or lateness, which may not always be understood or supported by their institution. Carers’ Trust research found that 29% of young carers had dropped out of college or university because of their caring role, making them around four times more likely to withdraw from further or higher education than the national average.  

Young carers are more likely to have lower overall educational attainment than average, which can put them at a disadvantage in accessing higher education, particularly at high-tariff universities such as UCL. 

Some students need to return home each day to provide regular care, whereas others will return at weekends or during vacations to take up caring responsibilities. Some may be providing care at a distance, for instance by providing regular emotional support via phone. 

Students with caring responsibilities can be a “hidden group” within universities, as students do not always discuss their status as a carer with their institution and some may not consider themselves as a carer.