Report on the 2019 Access to Higher Education and Student Success Summit: Joining the Dots

By Andrew Rawson, Action on Access

As an active member of FACE and someone who finds the annual FACE conference most useful and enjoyable I am taking the opportunity – at least partly to encourage readers to consider attending the Action on Access 2020 Summit in November 2020 – to report on our 9th annual conference that took place last month, Access to Higher Education and Student Success Summit 2019: Joining the Dots.

Our delegates told us how they had been both provoked and informed by the programme content and enjoyed the opportunities to network with passionate and committed colleagues. It was passionate and committed speakers and workshop leaders who delivered this year’s main theme – joining the dots. Advance HE, UCAS, ASCL, UKAT, ISE, NEON, the Social Mobility Foundation, CELCIS, Become, UNITE Foundation, the Brilliant Club, Ability Net, the Profs, the Behavioural Insight Team, as well as colleagues from the universities of East Anglia, East London, Kings College, Middlesex, Nottingham, Royal Holloway, Sheffield, Surrey, York St John, and the Students’ Unions of Kings College and Newcastle all contributed to making the Summit an outstanding success. (The programme did also include Chris Millward, Director Fair Access and Participation, until the General Election purdah).


Really useful event that has left me much to think about and many new contacts.

~ Access to Higher Education and Student Success Summit 2019 delegate

Keynotes gave wide-ranging, expert perspective on a range of areas, including inclusive admissions, inclusive curriculum, student financial guidance and support, digital accessibility and its regulation, and employers’ graduate intake. Workshops engaged with various student support patterns – in secondary education, in outreach and applications, academic tutor support, work by students’ unions, work with care experienced students, and work by the third sector in social mobility ‘cold spots’ and through student volunteering and social action.

The penultimate Summit session explored the ‘Cost Effectiveness of WP interventions’ where our panellists examined between them the evidence on affordable widening participation schemes, drawing extensively on their own and as well as their institutional experience of such initiatives. The panellists – from university departments, research bodies and external providers – offered a well-rounded view on the most effective schemes to increase participation and success rates in relation to their universities and their partners. Comments from the Summit delegates identified the importance of not only addressing the cost-effective issue but doing that within the context of the public and wider benefits of WP activities.


Fast paced, short, sharp talks from a wide variety of speakers. Lots of like-minded people sharing best practices and common challenges. Excellent event!

~ Access to Higher Education and Student Success Summit 2019 delegate

Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive of the Institute of Student Employers (ISE), gave the final keynote providing enormous insight and understanding of the recruitment patterns of employers in different labour market areas.

Just two of the many learning points I took away from the event were:

  • most universities do not seem to be complying with digital accessibility regulations and that there is a need for more guidance on this from the OfS;
  • ISE analysis shows graduates’ levels of preparedness for application and interview vary widely in some key employment areas, especially law and the financial sectors, and the ISE suggests institutions should offer more or better preparation to their students.

I am already anticipating and planning next year’s tenth Access to HE and Student Success Summit. If you have any suggestions for main themes or a focus for our 10th Summit in 2020, let me have them – a.rawson@actiononaccess.org – and they will be genuinely considered and examined alongside our formal evaluation.

Andrew is a member of the FACE Executive Group and is currently in the role of FACE Treasurer

Image credit: Iker Urteaga 

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