Press Office


Realising opportunities

An award-winning partnership of leading universities has helped under-represented students win places at research intensive institutions, a new report has shown.

The pioneering partnership between 15 of the UK’s leading universities, led by Newcastle University, has shown consistent success in helping bright students from disadvantaged backgrounds win places at the most selective universities.

Launched today (Tuesday 14th October), the Realising Opportunities: Working Together, Supporting Talent report presents new evidence of the success achieved by the Partnership – a unique collaboration aimed at promoting fair access to higher education for students from under-represented backgrounds. 

Launched five years ago, Realising Opportunities recruits bright Year 12 students at targeted schools. Students receive support from a student mentor and attend events such as the Realising Opportunities National Student Conference. Students complete academic work which, along with an online study skills module, allows them to demonstrate their potential while developing skills vital for university study.

Those who successfully complete the programme can receive an alternative offer from the Partner universities they apply to.

The Realising Opportunities report shows the number of university applications from students enrolled on the programme steadily increased, with disadvantaged students more aware of the opportunities offered by HE, more likely to apply to a research-intensive university, more likely to receive an offer from their preferred universities and more likely to choose to study away from home.

Over 2000 students have taken part in Realising Opportunities with 700 currently on the programme and another 750 due to start in 2015. Over 50% of those who have benefitted so far have gone on to apply to research intensive universities. This compares with a figure of just 3% of disadvantaged young people nationally, according to OFFA. It also shows that high numbers of participants have consistently gone on to win places at their first choice institutions, with 70% of those surveyed in 2014 reporting to have done so.

The report shows how Realising Opportunities has achieved such success while retaining academic rigour. It highlights Realising Opportunities as an example of how universities can work together to benefit under-represented groups in higher education, especially at research-intensive universities.

Professor Ella Ritchie OBE, Emeritus Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Newcastle University and Chair of the Realising Opportunities Partnership said: "The Realising Opportunities programme combines the resources, knowledge and insight of 15 of the UK’s top research-intensive Universities to support the ambitions and talent of bright young people. There is no doubt that Realising Opportunities has made a vital contribution to widening participation in higher education. We are hugely proud of the Partnership’s success."

The programme aims to level the playing field for disadvantaged students, ensuring they have the skills, knowledge and academic and practical skills needed for life at university.

Professor Ritchie added: “We know that academically-able students from disadvantaged backgrounds are under-represented in higher education, with less than 3% of the poorest students applying to research-intensive universities. There is a multitude of reasons for this, including lack of information to an assumption that the most selective universities are not for them. By offering support and guidance and helping students realise their potential, we are supporting ambition and building confidence amongst the brightest but least represented young people.”

published on: 14 October 2014