Can We Widen Access to Higher Education? A Christmas Message from NEON


As we approach Christmas we want to take this opportunity to send our best wishes to all of our members and friends and thank you for your work in tackling inequality in participation and success in higher education. This has been a difficult year for HE, with a growing perception that HE is a bastion of inequality rather than a force for social mobility. We are asked continually by those inside and outside the sector whether it is really, actually possible to widen access to HE? While the chances of learners from ‘low participation neighbourhoods’ going to HE are higher than ever before, last week’s UCAS report showed the gap in participation between the most disadvantaged & advantaged groups is failing to close. Some of our most selective universities appear impenetrable to certain learners and too many students are failing to reach their potential when in HE.

The work of our members shows however that we can make a difference. We have over 100 examples of the impact of widening access work gathered through our #OutreachWorks campaign, and the first NEON book available now contains a myriad of examples of initiatives that are enabling wider access to and success through HE. Access to HE can be, and is being widened and inequality tackled but this can only be done by the widening access community working together. Over 1000 people from over 150 organisations participated in NEON events in 2017 through our access academy, summits, NCOP training programme, fringe events at both Labour and Conservative party conferences, the national widening participation conference for the NHS facilitated by NEON and our biggest ever NEON Summer Symposium with over 200 delegates at Leeds Beckett University.

It is more important than ever that those committed to reducing inequality in HE work together to continue to transform the lives of learners from under-represented groups. The next year will see NEON increase our work to widen access to HE in England including:

  • NEON’s NCOP ‘Schools for HE’ programme working with over 50 schools on a national pilot programme to support school improvement & the sustainability of NCOP.
  • New research with Universities UK (UUK) looking at the perspectives of students on the HE finance system and how fair they think it is.
  • Our 6th annual symposium at the University of Sussex in June – ‘Widening Access – who cares?
  • The continuation of the #OutreachWorks campaign – with the campaign report coming out in the summer.
  • Launch of the ‘NEON Widening Access Scorecard’ in the Spring – a new approach to measuring success in access to HE in the era of the Office for Students (OfS).
  • New NEON Summits on widening access through the student lifecycle, access for disabled learners, widening access to arts/creative subjects and widening access to medicine and healthcare.

Finally, many of you will be searching for presents for your loved ones. We would recommend you get your nearest and dearest a copy of our new publication of “Widening Access Throughout the Student Lifecycle”, the ideal Christmas gift (!)

We wish you all a peaceful and happy festive break and look forward to working with you all in 2018.

The NEON Team.