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Sharing learning from our attracting diversity project

Published: 26/04/2017

First blog post in a new series from ECU's Scotland team.

Developing evidence-based initiatives to improve student diversity

Ambitious improvements to the diversity of student populations cannot be achieved through a one-size fits all approach. The potential barriers for prospective students to access further and higher education are numerous. For many these barriers are multiplied, for example on account of their race, gender, disability, and socioeconomic status.

Historically measures to remove barriers to access education have focused on building the capacity and resilience of underrepresented groups, rather than assessing the impact of institutional infrastructure, entry requirements, course structure, and student experience. Crucially, if we are to make significant progress in this area we must understand more about what these barriers are, how they manifest locally, and what can be done to reduce their impact and ultimately remove them.

Further and higher education institutions are prioritising widening access and improving student diversity. ECU, working with Prof Liz Thomas, are supporting 23 colleges and universities in Scotland to help improve student diversity through our project attracting diversity*. This expansive three year project (2015-2018) follows a successful pilot project with four Scottish Universities (2014/15).

Scottish institutions participating in the attracting diversity project are using the following piloted methodology to ensure their initiatives are evidence-based and tailored to address the specific barriers identified:

  • develop internal and external collaboration
  • undertake quantitative analysis and review of data
  • undertake qualitative research
  • use evidence to develop widening access initiatives

All 23 Scottish ‘attracting diversity’ institutions recently attended a cross-institutional event to examine and share their theory of change models and monitoring and evaluation frameworks. Through examining their own data, conducting research, and developing cutting-edge positive action measures these projects are contributing to the development of new approaches and vital learning for the sector.

Sharing learning and progress is an integral element of this project. In a series of blogs over the next few weeks we’ll be hearing from institutions participating in ‘attracting diversity’ outlining their projects and their progress and learning, so far, on improving student diversity in subjects where certain groups are underrepresented.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks as we shine a spotlight on some of these projects.

Kay Steven
Policy Officer (Scotland)

*A similar project in England and Wales, Increasing Diversity, is working with a number of Higher Education Institutions.