12 November 2021

World Access to Higher Education Day

How can we make meaningful commitments that will lead to greater equity in access and participation in higher education? UEA Vice-Chancellor and President Prof David Richardson shares his thoughts.  


UEA was born in 1963 with a mission of social inclusion in higher education. As we approach our diamond anniversary in 2023 this mission remains remain central to UEA’s Vision 2030. Indeed it is more important to us now than ever before as we seek to be a university in which talented students will thrive regardless of their socioeconomic, ethnic or cultural backgrounds. I joined university from a low participation area in the North East of England in 1982 when only around 10% of young people in the UK aged 18-24 had the opportunity to go to university.

I was fortunate to be able to join a university that, like UEA, had an active approach to inclusive education and a supportive campus environment. When I had the honour of joining UEA in 1991, nationally still less than 1 million (<20%) of UK 18-24 year olds were given the opportunity to join Universities. Today this figure stands at 2 million. There is still much we need to do though to encourage access to HE from low participation areas of both the UK and the world and also to create a environment where all of our students can thrive, not by helping them overcome barriers – but by removing those barriers all together.

World Access to Higher Education Day has provided a wealth of incredibly important debate and discussion around equity into Higher education. The Lumina Foundation completed a study in 2018 looking at policy commitments of national governments to promote equal opportunities in both access and success at university, called ‘All Around the World’.

One concluding theme throughout this report is that equity into Higher Education is a consistent discourse for most governments, with many policies seeking to address inequalities aligning to the secondary level education system, admissions policies, availability of financial aid and universities civic responsibilities within their local contexts.

UEA has numerous commitments to support widening participation initiatives and provides a wealth of support across the educational lifecycle, including:

  • A clear strategy embedded into our strategic institutional plan; from our 2030 vision to our Access and Participation Plans, we have set ambitions on supporting equal opportunities for individuals in both accessing and succeeding at university. Our world-renowned research and global presence, including our work with the Aurora Alliance ensures wonderfully diverse approaches to continuing these importance conversations and adapting our approaches accordingly.

  • Dedicated support, services, and opportunities across the university; UEA’s Support Service not only provide support with enhancing study skills and support with academic writing, but a wealth of well-being support and provision, and help with adjusting to student life. CareerCentral provide a range of resources, workshops, dedicated careers support, funding and much more to support students’ continued success post-graduation.

  • Keeping Student Voice and experience at the forefront of our strategy; working with our Business Intelligence and Global Support Team’s internationally provides the knowledge and insight to further address barriers affecting individual’s progression. We’ve adapted plans and created opportunities to support students from all groups and provide students with opportunities to have voices heard and remain at the forefront of all UEA’s decision making.

  • Collaboration with internal and external stakeholders; UEA is fortunate to have a union to hold us accountable for our decisions and to bring to attention issues or barriers affecting our students. UEA(SU) provide a wealth of opportunities, advice and opportunities for effective campaigns and advocacy across a range of subjects. It’s an institution run by students, for students. Our student Sabbatical Officers are democratically elected by UEA Students to represent them to the University and the wider world and to help them lobby for their interests and make University life the best it can be.

  • Being recognised as a University of Sanctuary; we’re proud to be in our fourth year as a University of Sanctuary, an accreditation that recognises our dedication to supporting those seeking asylum. The Universities of Sanctuary initiative currently engages with sanctuary seekers in multiple activities, including learning and teaching, student support, delivery of events such as UEA Refugee week, research projects, partnerships with community organisations and through the UEA scholarship programme.

Our multi-faceted approach ensures that Inclusive Education practices are embedded into strategic planning and teaching to maximise the opportunity for success across four parts: inclusive curriculum, inclusive education pedagogy through assessment, inclusive pedagogy, and inclusive environments. For students and staff interested in educational policy and supporting education, our Governor’s Network provides a forum of information, advice, and guidance to those thinking about governance roles, or in these important voluntary roles already.

Please join us to celebrate World Access to Higher Education Day on 17th November 2021, UEA is inviting all current students to Union Building between 11am and 2.30pm to share what equity in Higher Education means to them. Celebrations will be shared on our official university channels, so please do feel free to get involved, no need to book, just drop by, or visit UEA’s official social media channels to share stories and thoughts around this important subject.


More UEA stories