University of Leicester sees boost in student numbers as widening participation strategy bears fruit

Undergraduate registrations at the University of Leicester increased by almost 10 per cent last year and applications for this year are also on the rise, bucking the national trend, the latest figures from UCAS show.

A focus on close relationships with schools in the region and further afield to improve access has reaped rewards, shielding the University from some of the declines seen at other institutions across the sector.

In a year of little movement on student admissions nationally, with only a 0.4 per cent rise overall and a 1.5 per cent increase in the number of 18 year olds entering higher education, the University of Leicester was one of the winners in the 2016/17 recruitment round.

Registrations from UK and EU undergraduates rose by nearly 16 per cent, and there was also a 14 per cent rise for full-time UK 18-year-old undergraduates, despite concerns over demographic changes affecting numbers in this group. The figures indicate how many students actually registered to start a course at Leicester, rather than just giving a firm response to an offer via UCAS.

Leicester was identified as one of the top risers for acceptances last year in a Times Higher Education analysis, while some institutions in the sector experienced a significant drop.

Figure for the 2017/18 intake also look promising, with a 2 percent increase in applications up to the January deadline compared to the same time last year, contrasting with a 5 per cent fall nationally.

A key contributor to the success has been work to put in place strong arrangements to meet widening participation targets in line with Office for Fair Access guidance calling for more diverse intakes at high ranking universities.

Links with schools in the East Midlands have been strengthened and extended to ensure local youngsters with talent and potential are identified and supported. Four progression programmes to help teenagers from under-represented backgrounds win degree places have been oversubscribed this year, with applications up by 25 per cent compared with last year.

Leicester offers hundreds of places to pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds at schools in its region who join programmes at the age of 16 designed to raise aspirations and help them find their way onto the right degree course. Many students that successfully progress through the programmes are then offered places with lower entry grades and with a £1,000-a-year bursary to help cover costs. Some of the programmes are aimed at encouraging students to study subjects that tend to be dominated by applicants from wealthier households, such as medicine and law.

From September the University’s Medical School will be offering scholarships worth £9,000 to students joining a new Foundation Year designed to attract more young people from state schools and lower socio-economic groups.

The University is now sending its staff and students into local primary as well as secondary schools in areas where few progress into higher education, talking to children and giving workshops in a bid to raise aspirations and dispel myths about studying for a degree.

“Universities are getting more active in seeking strong local links,” said Professor Mark Peel, Leicester’s Provost. “Even institutions that recruit nationally, including Leicester, are more active on both fronts. We are pursuing the national profile, but also putting more effort into the regional market.”

A campaign to partner with schools and colleges in London, the London to Leicester initiative, has also raised the university’s profile among young people in the capital and highlighted the benefits of studying at Leicester and living in a smaller and more affordable but equally diverse and vibrant community. There has been a 114 per cent rise in admissions of students from London from partnership schools and colleges involved in the programme over the past two years.

Thanks to Leicester’s strong track record in widening participation and supporting students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and with the highest standards in teaching and support on offer, these undergraduates can prosper, maintaining the university’s hard-earned national and international reputation for quality.

Professor Peel said: “Since the student numbers cap came off, the institutions that were seen to be in the squeezed middle are now in a much better position - especially ones like Leicester that have traditionally been good at widening participation, access, retention and high quality teaching. Our growth strategy has proved to be a strategically intelligent move in a difficult and volatile market, and it is clear that the approach has paid off.”