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Aimhigher Initiative: Standards

Volume 472: debated on Tuesday 4 March 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills what assessment he has made of the performance of the Aimhigher Initiative in encouraging more pupils from deprived backgrounds to submit a UCAS application. (186615)

The Aimhigher programme is a major initiative designed to widen participation in higher education (HE), and increase opportunities for people from under-represented groups to attend higher education institutions and courses where competition for places is fiercest and which offer the highest financial rates of return.

There have been various evaluations of the programme which show that it has had a positive impact on participants' attainment and their attitudes towards HE. In the programme's early years (2001 to 2002) when it was known as Aimhigher: Excellence Challenge (AH: EC), before it became a national programme, research showed that being part of AH: EC

(a) led to an improvement in the proportion, by 4.6 per cent, of Year 9 pupils attaining levels 4, 5 or 6 in Maths at Key Stage 3;

(b) involved improvement in nearly all measures of Year 11's GCSE results, with an average improvement in total points scored of 2.5, which corresponds to an increase of between two and three grades in one GCSE; and

(c) AH: EC Year 11 participants were more likely to say that they intended to take part in HE (by 3.9 percentage points).

Research conducted by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) showed that over 70 per cent. of universities responding to its survey said that Aimhigher added value to their widening participation policies and activities, that Aimhigher has provided a positive and welcome boost to their own efforts to widen participation in HE, and that this has translated into increased applications.

Given the long-term nature of widening participation in HE, and the complex interplay of factors that affect participation patterns, it is not possible to determine conclusively the effect that Aimhigher has had on applications made through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). But we do know that Aimhigher makes a difference, because those who deliver and participate in it tell us so. And they can point at facts that support their caseā€”for example, in the West Midlands over the last five years, the more disadvantaged communities have produced the largest increases in applications and acceptances. Those are the areas where Aimhigher operates most intensively. And we know that in England, since the introduction of Aimhigher, there has been a steady increase in the number and proportion of entrants to HE who come from lower social class backgrounds. This is reflected in the most recent UCAS application data for 2008 entry. In England, the proportion of applicants at age 18 coming from lower social class backgrounds is up from 28.2 per cent. in 2007 to 28.9 per cent. this year.

Widening participation requires long-term address and we have announced the continuation of Aimhigher until 2011. We will continue to work with HEFCE to commission a national study to report before the end of 2011 on outcomes across the whole programme since 2004, when the unified, national Aimhigher was introduced. And at local level, Aimhigher Partnerships will determine the extent to which the Aimhigher programme has raised HE awareness, aspirations and attainment among participants and in participating institutions.