Two new reports, published today by the Sutton Trust, look at how the UK compares globally when it comes to approaches to widen access to higher education.

  • The first analyses how leading universities across the world are working to extend university access and student success for under-represented groups, including case studies from universities in the Unites States, Sweden, Chile and the Netherlands.
  • The second gives an overview of how university admissions across 45 countries have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

The second piece of work looks at universities in countries across every continent, to explore the effects of the global pandemic on higher education. Of the 45 countries surveyed, in 80% of cases university admissions had been disrupted. Most of this disruption was caused by some form of cancellation of examinations. In a similar proportion of countries, teaching content had been transferred online because of the pandemic.

The vast majority of OECD countries, including Australia, France, Germany and the United States, along with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, have provided additional financial support to low-income students, such as grants or reduced tuition fees to support them through the pandemic. In this respect, England is an outlier as it has provided no additional targeted support for disadvantaged students, risking furthering inequalities and reducing social mobility. Research from earlier this year showed that students are feeling the financial pinch as opportunities for part time work have been severely hit.

This COVID-19 impact study is published alongside research which examines university access amongst leading institutions globally, to see what improvement can be made for widening access in England.

While England is a leader when it comes to widening access, the report makes several suggestions for improving access, including forming a global network of leading institutions to share best practice, developing student support models and encouraging collaboration between leading universities and representative organisations and charities.

The report also finds that specific support for students in under-represented groups while they’re at university is absolutely vital, as many students can find their university to be an unwelcoming environment.

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