Equality gaps between the most and least advantaged students continue to persist in higher education (HE). While continuous commitment and investment matter, evidence is needed for the sector to understand what can work to improve access and widen participation for underrepresented groups.
The Centre for Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in Higher Education (TASO) aims to improve lives through evidence-informed practice in HE. Our vision is to eliminate equality gaps for disadvantaged and underrepresented groups, allowing all students to have the same chance to enter HE, get a good degree and progress into further study or employment.
Established in 2019, TASO became a new What Works Centre for the HE sector and part of the Government’s What Works Movement. We are committed to the generation, synthesis and dissemination of high-quality evidence about effective practice in widening participation and student success. We are an independent hub for HE professionals to access research, toolkits and evaluation guidance to eliminate equality gaps. Further, we inform practitioners of the best available evidence and produce new evidence on the most effective approaches. Our role is to help the sector produce more Type 3 evidence, in line with the Office for Students’ Standards of Evidence, as this provides us with the best possible understanding of which activities and approaches are most effective.
TASO has several research projects underway guided by two research themes. Our first research theme looks at the effectiveness of widening participation outreach. One of our research projects focuses on the support, access and student success for learners with experience of children’s social care. We recently released an evidence review on this project that shows that learners with experience of children’s social care are less likely to progress to higher education, and when they do, they face more challenges than their peers. Our report highlights where the HE sector needs to focus more attention to support these students and reveals the barriers that currently prevent them from doing so. Under this research theme, we will also evaluate the impact of multi-intervention outreach and mentoring (MIOM) and summer schools.
Our second research theme looks at gaps in the student experience. This theme focuses on understanding the possible reasons for the significant and persistent disparity in academic performance or educational attainment between the most and the least disadvantaged students. At TASO we are currently focusing on the impact of curriculum reform on race equality gaps. Under this research theme, we are also assessing teaching and learning in the time of COVID. This is due to the concern that the pandemic has, or will, further widen the educational attainment gap that already exists between disadvantaged learners and their peers.
As we continue to evaluate ‘what works’ it is important for us to continuously work in partnership with the sector. For instance, our research partnership with the University of Kent and the University of Leicester allows us to collaborate, address and evaluate the degree-awarding gap between Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) students compared to their White peers. Further, our recent partnership with HEAT also allows us to analyse some of the extensive data currently held within the HEAT database as we address the relationship between outreach participation, attainment and HE progression.
TASO has recently become an independent charity and will continue its commitment to working in partnership with the wider sector to have more effective evidence to improve access, outcomes, and success for all students. By working with the sector, we will realise our vision to eliminate equality gaps in higher education.
Dr Omar Khan, Director, TASO – https://taso.org.uk/person/omar-khan/
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