Evaluating approaches to EDI and Widening Participation in Higher Education

Widening participation in higher education has become a welcome focus in recent policy following its prominent role in the HE Green Paper and its close relation to the TEF metrics. It’s clear that the widening participation agenda spans a huge range of institutional initiatives which go right across the student experience from pre-university outreach initiatives, inclusive curriculum development, through to student support during their studies and facilitating the move into employment.

With widening participation targets now high on the list of strategic priorities, we can offer institutions help in identifying routes to developing an institutionally ‘joined up’ approach, as well as evidence-based data to ensure resource is allocated to the most effective approaches and initiatives, while ensuring buy-in from internal staff and stakeholders.

We have vast experience in conducting quantitative and qualitative research with respondent groups, relating to each of these stages. We’re also adept at analysing quantitative data, digging deeper using statistical techniques like regression, to get more insight from data you may already have at hand.

We are experienced in speaking with the following stakeholder groups:

  • Prospective students – to assess attitudes to going to university and touchpoints for applicants
  • Current students – to assess what widening participation initiatives worked best to encourage their applications
  • Influencers – including parents, teachers and careers advisors, and their attitudes and behaviours around support and recommendation
  • Institutional stakeholders – to uncover institutional attitudes to widening participation and inform a ‘joined up’ approach to widening participation
  • Members of the public – looking into public views of the institution and attitudes towards public involvement, collaboration and civic projects
  • Employers – to identify their skills gaps and future needs and provide recommendations to facilitate routes to employment and increase student job prospects
  • Data analysis – for example using regression to identify the factors which lead students to drop out in their first year and inform ways of increasing retention

All our projects are bespoke, however some of the projects we can offer to support institutional widening participation strategy and initiatives include:

Widening participation strategy and data analysis

  • Analysing existing data, e.g. using regression to identify factors which contribute to students dropping out in their first year
  • Literature reviews and competitor research to identify effective initiatives and sector best practice
  • Workshop facilitation for staff, to engage stakeholders and inform future widening participation strategy


  • Depth interviews with teachers, careers advisors and with SLT members to identify effective approaches in encouraging and supporting applications from disadvantaged groups
  • Focus groups with prospective students and/or influencers to uncover attitudes to applying to university
  • Surveys to prospective students and/or influencers to identify most effective messaging and channels to raise awareness of progression opportunities


  • Focus groups exploring current student experiences around admissions procedures
  • New programme development to facilitate routes into higher education, e.g. Foundation programmes, PT provision
  • Branding and communications research, ensuring messaging reaches all groups in the widening participation umbrella

Support during study

  • Focus groups with current students looking at levels and types of support needed to improve retention

Transition to employment

  • Interviews and surveys with employers to identify skills gaps and future needs and provide recommendations to facilitate routes to employment and increase student job prospects