Have the changes introduced by the 2004 Higher Education Act made higher education admissions in England wider and fairer?
Harrison, N. (2011) Have the changes introduced by the 2004 Higher Education Act made higher education admissions in England wider and fairer? Journal of Education Policy, 26 (3). pp. 449-468. ISSN 0268-0939
Publisher's URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02680939.2010.513742
‘Widening participation’ and ‘fair access’ have been contested policy areas in English higher education since at least the early 1990s. They were key facets of the 2003 White Paper – The Future of Higher Education – and the subsequent 2004 Higher Education Act, with stated objectives that the reach of higher education should be wider and fairer. In particular, there has been considerable concern about admissions to ‘top universities’, which have remained socially as well as academically exclusive. The principal policy tools used by the Act were the introduction of variable tuition fees, expanded student grants, discretionary bursaries and the new Office for Fair Access (OFFA). This paper draws on publicly available statistics to assess whether the changes implemented by the 2004 Act have indeed made access to English higher education wider and fairer in relation to young people progressing from state schools and colleges and from lower socio-economic groups. It concludes that, while there is some evidence for modest improvements, these have been concentrated outside the ‘top universities’, which have seen slippage relative to the rest of the sector. The paper concludes with a discussion of the reasons why financial inducements appear to be a flawed and naive approach to influencing student demand.
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