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How do widening access students progress at university?

31 July 2013

Leading academics Professor Chris Taylor and Professor Gareth Rees, from the Wales Institute of Social & Economic Research, Data & Methods (WISERD), have found no significant effect on the progress of students in Higher Education who come from areas of widening access.

The recently published research, in the Contemporary Wales Journal, looked at how students from non-traditional backgrounds performed whilst at one British university. The findings indicate that there is no disadvantage to coming from a ‘low participation neighbourhood’ on degree classifications when comparing other similar students based on their prior attainment.

"These findings suggest that the principal aim of the Welsh Government to increase participation of young people from Communities First areas in Wales can be achieved without detriment on their success in completing a degree," said Professor Taylor. "It is also good news for young people from Communities First areas who perhaps might otherwise think that university is not for people like them. This clearly shows that if they can get the grades for entry they are just as likely as anyone else to successfully progress through their higher education and get a good degree result."

The research, which took place over a three year period and followed 30,000 students, also uncovered evidence to support how females tend to do better in Higher Education and that prior qualifications are key to achieving a ‘good’ degree.

Another finding to come from the research was the assessment of fee paying versus state school education. Research Director, Professor Taylor concludes that pupils from independent and private schools are less likely to do as well those from other schools.

"This finding appears to be in line with recent studies at other British universities, which suggests that university students from fee paying schools are significantly less likely to get a good degree result than equivalent students from the state maintained sector," said Professor Taylor.

"Unfortunately none of these studies have enough information to help understand why this might be the case. Clearly this deserves further consideration otherwise university managers, admissions tutors and government officials will be left to simply speculate as to the reasons for this," he added.


Notes to Editors

The Wales Institute of Social & Economic Research, Data & Methods (WISERD) was established in 2009 to draw together and build upon the existing expertise in quantitative and qualitative research methods and methodologies at the universities of Aberystwyth, Bangor, Cardiff, South Wales and Swansea.

WISERD undertakes research and capacity building activities that underpin research infrastructure in the economic and social sciences across Wales and beyond.



Cardiff University is recognised in independent government assessments as one of Britain’s leading teaching and research universities and is a member of the Russell Group of the UK’s most research intensive universities. Among its academic staff are two Nobel Laureates, including the winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Medicine, University Chancellor Professor Sir Martin Evans. Founded by Royal Charter in 1883, today the University combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. The University’s breadth of expertise encompasses: the College of Humanities and Social Sciences; the College of Biomedical and Life Sciences; and the College of Physical Sciences, along with a longstanding commitment to lifelong learning. Cardiff's three flagship Research Institutes are offering radical new approaches to neurosciences and mental health, cancer stem cells and sustainable places.

Copies of the article can be downloaded here:

Further information

Jill Wilmott-Doran

Communications Officer, WISERD


Tel: 029 2087 0026