Widening Access to HE in 2018: Next Steps

This briefing will provide an up-to-date understanding of what more your institution can do to support students from non-traditional backgrounds. We’ll examine issues surrounding widening access, retention and providing effective support.

The context

Regardless of age or background, it is vital that people are given opportunities to achieve their potential. This will deliver benefits to individuals, the institutions they attend and will contribute to improving the future performance of Scotland’s skills-based economy. 

Government initiatives including the Blueprint for Fairness focus on supporting students from lower socio-economic backgrounds to undertake higher and further education yet this is just one in a myriad of factors effecting access. It is important to ensure that mature students, those from minorities, and those with disabilities all have the support to achieve their full potential yet such different demands have led to a possible lack of understanding of what may be most effective for each group. 

With specific challenges associated with each including juggling study with work, financial responsibilities, and physical limitations, higher education institutions must work hard to demonstrate the opportunities available for all students, deliver a supportive and engaging learning environment and ensure these students have a voice in shaping their experience.

The event 

Join us at this event to consider the next steps for widening access in higher education (HE). We’ll share positive examples of good practice and bring together key speakers to examine strategies and approaches for improvement in your organisation.


Key issues to be addressed

  • A whole-institution approach to supporting students from non-traditional backgrounds through their HE journey 
  • Adapting provisions of support for students with different additional commitments
  • Strategies for improving retention and sense of belonging for minority students: challenges & opportunities 
  • Flexibility when teaching: supporting those who may have complex responsibilities
  • Delivering effective guidance for students who enter through non-traditional routes 
  • Representing students’ views through your students’ union: support, advice & student life
  • Attracting & retaining part-time students


09:15  Registration and Refreshments

9:55 Introduction from the chair

Liz Leonard, Journalist and Broadcaster

Session 1: Policy Context and Overview 

  • The Scottish Government’s approach to widening access to HE
  • Implementing the ‘Blue Print for Fairness’ recommendations: progress to date & next steps
  • Meeting ‘outcome agreement’ commitments and holding HEIs to account

10:00 Dr Elisabet Weedon, Honorary Fellow, University of Edinburgh

10:20 We Can’t Widen Access with a Narrow Focus

Shona Littlejohn, Depute Director for Student Experience and Widening Access, The Open University in Scotland

10:40  Questions and Discussion
11:00   Refreshments and Networking 
11:30  Session 2: Panel Discussion: Key Challenges and Next Steps 
  • Engaging hard to reach groups
  • Supporting & retaining students from non-traditional backgrounds
  • The role of students’ unions and peer to peer support
  • Embedding a whole institution approach

Shona Littlejohn, Depute Director for Student Experience and Widening Access, The Open University in Scotland

Dr John Blicharski, Access and Participation Manager, University of Dundee

David Faith, Policy and Learning Coordinator, Who Cares? Scotland

12:30  Lunch and Networking 
13:10  Session 3: Non-Traditional Routes and Good Practice
  • Looking at the evidence: what works?
  • Actions leading institutions are already taking
  • Implementing appropriate & effective strategies
  • Good practice to take back and implement with colleagues

13:10 Ged Lerpiniere, Director, LEAPS

13:30 Karen MacFarlane, Research Fellow, Glasgow Caledonian University

​​14:25  Questions and Discussion

14:50 Chair's closing remarks

15:00 Close of Event 

*Agenda subject to change 


Scottish Arbitration Centre, 125 Princes Street, Edinburgh | Map


Delegate rates (excluding VAT):

  • Discounted rate: 1 place £145 + VAT (Voluntary / charitable organisations with an annual income of less than £1m)
  • Reduced rate: 1 place £245 + VAT | 2+ places £195 + VAT (Central government departments and agencies, local authorities, universities, colleges, NHS, police, professional associations and voluntary / charitable organisations with an annual income over £1m)
  • Full rate: 1 place £295 + VAT | 2+ places £245 + VAT (Commercial organisations e.g. plc, Ltd, LLP)

For more information please email enquiries@holyrood.com or phone 0131 285 1635

Who would benefit from attending?

Delegates will be drawn from across higher education, schools, local authorities and the third sector, including colleagues in: university access and admissions, teaching staff, student services, financial support, outreach, student advice centres, counselling service, students’ unions, departmental and faculty representatives, and anyone with an interest in supporting mature students and improving outcomes.
7 December 2017



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