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Communities research and widening participation

We are exploring opportunities to embed the widening participation activity of higher education institutions (HEIs) in local communities and their existing educational structures. This work looks towards new partnerships between schools, local authorities, further education, higher education (HE), business and young people, their families and the wider community.

Communities research

We are currently funding studies into five constituencies selected on the basis of low levels of young participation in HE in urban, rural and coastal areas. Known as the 'Communities Research', the studies will aim to:

  • provide all parties with a better understanding of the social, economic and cultural factors that might lie behind the low participation rates in each community, in order to establish what might be done to improve them
  • commit institutions to embedding strategic activity that will widen participation across the areas studied.

Collaborative, multi-institutional teams are leading the research in each area, including researchers from different disciplines and widening participation practitioners.

The five research areas and lead institutions are:

  • London (Barking and Dagenham)- University of East London
  • Salford- University of Salford
  • Hastings- University of Brighton
  • Leeds- Leeds Metropolitan University, University of Leeds and Leeds Trinity University College
  • North east Cambridgeshire- Anglia Ruskin University

The studies will focus on qualitative research, and the research teams will develop methodologies that are appropriate for the communities in which they will be working. Research will include work with participants and non participants in HE.

Key issues for the research teams

  • Social class and the local economy.
  • The nature of schools and the appropriateness and attractiveness of post-16 provision.
  • The quality and impact of current advice and guidance available to young people.
  • Culture and tradition in local communities.
  • Current HE provision and opportunities.
  • Examples of good practice in reaching out and engaging young people from these communities in post-16 and HE provision.

Final reports are being submitted on a rolling basis between late 2009 and early 2010.

Background - the 'four cities research'

In 2007, we published a series of reports on young participation in HE, more commonly referred to as the 'four cities research' . The four cities overview report and individual studies provide a rich and complex picture of the processes that underpin the low rates of participation of young people in HE from the four constituencies investigated.

The four cities research presented a case for HEIs to embed their support for widening participation directly within the educational provision of the local areas, and to promote situated forms of action, based on a sound understanding of local circumstances. The 'Communities Research' we are now funding aims to explore in more detail the recommendations and opportunities suggested by the four cities research.

Sector impact assessment

In carrying out this research we have formally assessed its impact on the HE sector in terms of regulatory burden, equality and diversity, and sustainable development.

Communities and widening participation — extending the '4 cities' research to other communities

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Further information

For further information please contact Jean Arnold, 0117 931 7467 or Katie Germer, 0117 9317153,

Last updated 14 January 2010