Studies co-produced by Reading researchers with students from under-represented ethnic backgrounds are being used to support fair access to higher education.

While there has been a concerted effort in recent years to widen access to higher education (HE) in the UK, very little practical information is available on how those in the HE sector can encourage, facilitate, and support applications by black and minority ethnic students.

To address this issue, Professor Ciara McCabe (School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences) and Kizzi Keast (University Access and Outreach Manager) conducted inclusive studies involving students from under-represented ethnic backgrounds as both researchers and participants.

A cohort of 200 students from the Reading Scholars widening participation programme took part. The students were taught to conduct and present research using semi-structured qualitative interviews on how ethnicity affects university access in the UK.

Based on analysis of the resulting data, the research team, which included MSc and PhD students, published the Pioneers Report and a peer reviewed research article in the Journal of Further and Higher Education. The publications contain a series of recommendations for HE institutions and outreach practitioners, with a view to improving and facilitating access by black and minority ethnic students.

The recommendations have influenced policy and practice across the UK, both at Reading itself – where documents for parents of prospective students have now been translated into different languages – and via changes to the policies of the Study Higher partnership, which includes universities and colleges across Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, and Swindon.

“There’s racism still going on. So it’s like, will I feel welcome? How’s my mental health going to be if I go there? Will I be looked down on?” Study participant

Judges’ comment

“This is a very strong project, in the way that it works with participants to explore the student viewpoint and explore specific dimensions of access in relation to ethnicity. Well designed, delivered and disseminated.”

Team: Ciara McCabe, Kizzi Keast, Siyabend Kaya, Niamh Bull

In partnership with Study Higher

Funded by Study Higher

Shortlisted for the University Research Engagement and Impact Awards 2022

First published: June 2022