Current Projects

Our current projects include:

WPREU Lunch Session

If you would like to talk to us about any of our current projects or discuss possible other projects then please to contact us at

Follow us on twitter @WPREU_Sheffield 

September 2019

Why Evaluate II: From Evidence to Action

Please note this conference was cancelled due to COVID-19 - more information to come

12th-13th May 2020 - The Edge, Endcliffe Village, Sheffield

Following on from the 2017 Symposium, 'Why Evaluate?' we have teamed up with Brightside, OfS, NERUPI, TASO and Villiers Park to create a two day conference exploring ways of translating evaluation outcomes into actions that improve widening participation practice.

We will be taking a multi-disciplinary approach and inviting speakers from other domains in order to broaden the conversation and opportunities to share best practice. 

Why Evaluate Panel Discussion

Widening Participation Special Interest Group

Monthly - Workshop Space, the Elevate Building

These lunch time sessions offer a brief introduction and opportunity to discuss a range of ideas on the subject of widening participation. 

Date Topic

Monday 21/10/2019


Theory of Change as a way of developing evaluations. Book here

Tuesday 19/11/2019


Sense of belonging among UK undergraduates and the causes of this. Guest speaker Rebecca Barnes

Book here

Thursday 19/12/2019


What Concepts in the Research Tell Us About Student Retention and Success

Book here

Tuesday 21/01/2020


Open Discussion on Student Retention and Success

Book Here

Monday 17/02/2020


The development and evaluation of university transition programmes.

Book here

Friday 20/03/2020


Working with Students as Co-Researchers, experiences of the WPREU team

Book here

Tuesday 14/04/2020


Transition Programme in Law for WP Students with Zoe Ollerenshaw and Joan Upson. 

Postponed due to COVID-19- New date TBC

Tuesday 19/05/2020


Supporting Mature Students in creating networks and progressing from L0 to L1 with Camilla Priede and Rosalind Tratt.

Postponed due to COVID-19 - New date TBC

Friday 19/06/2020


A 2020/21 Season will be announced next autumn

SRHE Annual Conference 2019

December 11th-13th 2019, Newport, Wales

Julian Crockford will be attending the annual SRHE International Conference on Research into Higher Education. During the conference he will be taking part in a symposium on critical responses to TEF and presenting a paper on epistemologies of evaluation.

The conference will also feature Keynote speakers, Professor Lene Tanggaard, Professor Rajani Naidoo and Ian Jamieson. 

Multidisciplinary Methods in Intervention Development and Evaluation: An InspirED Workshop

October 17th 2019, University of Edinburgh

Greg Brown will be speaking at this workshop at Edinburgh University on the topic of Widening Participation Programme Development and Evaluation. This multidisciplinary workshop will feature speakers from a range of policy field discussing how they develop and evaluate programmes in their areas. There will be a specific focus on methodological  approaches and how they might transfer from one area to another. 

Past Events

WPREU Researcher/Practitioner Forum

April 23rd 2018 12.00-17.00 - Discovery Rooms

Including information about the Office for Students, HEPP South Yorkshire, Using IT & WP and more TBC.

Differential attainment - what next?

May 30th 2018 10.00-18.00 - Discovery Rooms

This day of workshops focuses on the issue of differential attainment for BME students. There will be short presentations of the wide-ranging internal research we've done so far and some of the changes this has prompted. We will also have some external speakers, and a series of workshops around how we start to make changes to our practices and curricula that we hope will help to close the gap.

Disability & Learning Difference Conference

June 11th 2018 10.00-18.00 - Discovery Rooms

We are planning to hold a conference on the 7th of March next year focusing on issues facing disabled students in HE. There will be short presentations of the wide-ranging internal research we've done so far and some of the changes this has prompted. We will also have some external speakers, and a series of workshops.

“Sheffield Student 2013” project close

June 14th 2018 13.00-17.00 - Diamond Lecture Theatre 9

The Sheffield Student 2013 longitudinal tracking project has followed the 2013 undergraduate entrants through their university transitions, as well as after graduation. This event summarises the outcomes to date, introducing colleagues to the key findings with regards to financial support, academic transitions, and the diverse nature of early career planning.

18th of January 2018

‘It’s got kind of like a friendly, almost family feel to it’: Examples of good practice in supporting BTEC holders in HE

Our colleague, Dr Zoe Baker has been confirmed as a speaker at a March workshop at the University of Liverpool, entitled Succeeding with non-traditional learners in HE. Her talk wdiscuss examples of good practice from departments where students reported the most positive academic experiences. These include the establishment of close learning communities, inclusive learning and teaching practices that created a sense of belonging, good professional relationships between departmental staff and tutors teaching on related BTEC courses, and the piloting of a summer school to introduce students to academic discourse, skills and expectations.

13th of December 2017

WPREU Researcher/Practitioner Forum - December 2018

In December, the Discovery Rooms also hosted our regular WPREU forum. 

First, the WPREU team provided updates on research and evaluation outcomes across two key areas of WP student success and progression. These were student financial support (presented by Dr Rita Hordósy and Greg Brown) and inclusive learning and teaching (presented by Dr Zoe Baker and Miriam Miller).

Secondly, a symposium was help to present the impact of the Sheffield Outreach and Access to Medicine Scheme (SOAMS), with Julie Askew, Dr Joanne Thompson, and Brigitte Delaney.

Third, drawing on years of experience working in widening access to HE across the city, Jackie Powell gave us an overview of the development of Widening Participation activity in Sheffield, discussing some of the local challenges the region presents to practitioners.

Finally, drawing on his PhD Research, Samuel Dent discussed the way in which institutionally mediated texts shape the experiences of students who care for children while studying at a University in the North of England. He spoke about how a number of themes emerged which misrecognised these students, and perpetuated social inequalities because of their status as carers.

Find the presentations on the WP Resources internal google site. (TUoS Staff only.)

27th of November 2017

Why Evaluate? Conference organised by OFFA and WPREU a great success

In November, the Discovery Rooms and Inox played host to our national ‘Why Evaluate’ symposium, organised in conjunction with the Office For Fair Access (OFFA). The symposium was intended to encourage learning and debate about the role of evaluation in supporting and sustaining access and participation in higher education.

The day took the form of three provocation and panel sessions, interspersed with keynote addresses and participatory workshop activities. Incoming Director for Fair Access at the Office For Students, Chris Millward, closed the day with a look ahead, offering insight into the OfS’s preliminary thinking around issues of evaluation and evidence in widening participation activity.

Provocation sessions covered evaluations motivation and methods, challenges and opportunities and finally, a discussion of what's still to come. Panel speakers included: prominent academics in the field, such as Professor Liz Thomas and Dr Neil Harrison, evaluators from other designated research and evaluation units like WPREU, and representatives from prominent third sector organisations focussed on providing widening participation provision.

Keynotes were delivered, by Professor Christina Hughes, of Sheffield Hallam University, and Professor Les Ebdon, the outgoing Director for Fair Access at OFFA. Professor Hughes keynote outlined evaluations place as a potentially revolutionary tool. In closing, she recognised the counter-prevailing force of political will, and the influence it has over our evaluations impact, urging delegates to speak truth to power whenever possible. Professor Ebdon outlined the great strides that have been made in widening access across the last decade, whilst outlining the great challenges that still remain; highlighting OFFA’s ongoing commitment to robust evaluation.

The participatory workshop sessions offered delegates an opportunity to share their thoughts with others, and interact with colleagues old and new. Workshop sessions covered a wide range of topics, led by a diverse set of stakeholders. These included sessions on theories of change, evaluating with students, tracking impact and evaluating outreach activity.

Full audio of each provocation and keynote, as well as all workshop presentations are available for download from the Why Evaluate webpages.

20th of November 2017

University of Sheffield leads work to make vital changes to widening participation

The University of Sheffield is joining forces with the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) to lead a sector-wide symposium on Widening Participation (WP) - marking a vital step change in how the sector approaches WP evaluation.

The event, which will be held on Monday 27 November 2017 marks the first national symposium focusing specifically on the evaluation of WP. The University of Sheffield was chosen to collaborate on the event as a result of the work done by its Widening Participation Research and Evaluation Unit.

Dr Julian Crockford, Widening Participation Research and Evaluation Manager at the University of Sheffield, said: “Evaluation should not just be about coverage or spread, but about actively interrogating what we do, not just to prove that it provides a satisfactory return on the very significant investment we make as a sector, but also to understand more about the potential students we’re working with, their lives and motivations, and discovering how we can support them better.”

Read blogs posts by colleagues from across the sector on “Why Evaluate”.

20th of November 2017

‘We will never escape these debts’: Undergraduate experiences of indebtedness, income-contingent loans and the tuition fee rises

This article critically examines how undergraduate students in a red brick university in the North of England have experienced the threefold rise in tuition fees since 2012, with particular attention on how they have begun to understand and negotiate the process of indebtedness. Drawing on a corpus of 118 interviews conducted with a group of 40 undergraduates across their whole student lifecycle, analysis is directed toward examining how students have variously sought to respond to the policy, reconcile the debt with their decision to study at university and, begin to negotiate a life of everyday indebtedness. The findings are located in the context of wider neoliberal policy trends that have continued to emphasise ‘cost-sharing’ as a mechanism for increased investment within the higher education sector generally, and individual fiscal responsibility specifically. Given the lack of any other viable career pathways for both lower and higher income students, they had to accept indebtedness as inevitable and take what comfort they could from the discourses of ‘foregone gain’ that they had been presented with. Evidently, and as the students in our sample well recognised, whether those discourses actually reflect the future remains to be seen. There is also no evidence within our data that students anticipated the subsequent changes to the repayment terms and conditions – a fact that is likely to compound feelings of economic powerlessness and constrain their capacity for financial agency yet further.

CLARK, T., HORDÓSY, R. & Vickers, D. 2017. ‘We will never escape these debts’: Undergraduate experiences of indebtedness, income-contingent loans and the tuition fee rises, Journal of Further and Higher Education,

13th of November 2017

The student finance system needs shaking up – for the sake of poorer students

Rita Hordósy and Greg Brown wrote a piece for The Conversation bringing together outcomes of their research on student budgeting and part-time work. (Link to post)

31st of October 2017

WPREU is involved in OFFA funded project - Understanding the evaluation of outreach interventions for under 16 year olds

In October 2017 OFFA commissioned a team led by Dr Neil Harrison at the University of the West of England (UWE) to investigate the outreach schemes universities and colleges run for under 16 year olds in England from disadvantaged backgrounds. The team will use existing national level data (from access agreements) and collect new data (through surveys, interviews, case studies and participatory research) to understand:

  • what activities universities and colleges are currently delivering for under 16 year olds
  • what outcomes these institutions are aiming to achieve through this work
  • how progress towards these outcomes is being measured and evaluated
  • what challenges exist for different stakeholders in conducting robust evaluation in this area.

At the end of this phase of research, the team will publish a report detailing their findings with practical resources for use by widening participation staff in universities and colleges.

9th of October 2017

Frugality” won’t solve systemic student finance problems

Rita Hordósy and Tom Clark wrote a blog post for WonkHE blog on the discrepancies of the student finance system. (Link to post)

5th - 7th of September 2017

WPREU at the British Educational Research Association annual conference - Brighton

Between the 5th and 7th of September, the WPREU team presented research findings from a number of projects, and shared current thinking on WP evaluation, at the British Educational Research Association (BERA) Annual Conference, held at the University of Sussex.

  • Julian Crockford: Looking for the Smoking Gun in the Wrong Places? Causality and the Evaluation of Widening Participation Outreach; Implications for Evaluation Practice
  • Greg Brown, Julian Crockford, Zoe Baker, Aunam Quyoum, Tom Clark & Rita Hordósy: Academic Engagement and Transition In and Through Higher Education for 'Widening Participation' Students: Institutional evidence from the whole student lifecycle (Symposium in the Higher Education Special Interest Group)
  • Miriam Miller: The challenges of using a Participatory Action Research approach with students in a Higher Education context
  • Greg Brown & Julian Crockford: 'What "works" -- when, how and for whom: The challenge of evaluating HE widening participation interventions

19th August 2017

SMI Placement students

Over the summer, Miriam and Greg worked with two students on placement with Sheffield Methods Institute, Rhiannon Denby and Olivia Smith. Their work followed on from the BME Attainment Gap project, looking at other possible gaps in attainment for different groups of students. Their report looked at gaps for students from different socio-economic backgrounds, by age, and by gender. These were then also combined with the data on ethnicity to show further patterns for BME students.
Rhiannon and Olivia have produced a presentation of their key findings and a full written report (available for TUoS staff only).

Our thanks go to Rhiannon and Olivia for their work on the project and to Aneta Piekut from SMI for her help in securing their placement with us.

7th July 2017

WPREU at AMOSSHE National Conference - Brighton

Miriam presented a session at 360 degree thinking: AMOSSHE national conference 2017, on the challenges of using a Participatory Action Research approach with students in a Higher Education context.

20th July 2017

Community of Practice Launch: BME Attainment

Miriam and Julian set up a Community of Practice for colleagues across the institution who are working to address the BME attainment gap. This informal launch provided colleagues with an introduction to each other and to the online community of practice which can be used as a way to share resources.

The online community of practice can be found here, and is open to all staff who are interested in work to close the attainment gap.

8th and 9th June 2017

Neon Conference

Julian Miriam and Greg attended NEON’s summer symposium at Leeds Beckett University. Julian presented a paper entitled ‘Call the CoP’s’ outlining the merits of setting up and developing Communities of Practice (CoP’s)

7th June 2016

Equality Challenge Unit: Attracting diversity cross-institutional event

WPREU are working on on two collaborative projects with the Equalities Challenge Unit (ECU) to improve the recruitment of, and support for, under-represented groups within HE. Miriam presented updates to colleagues from across the sector who are also involved in the Equality Challenge Unit “Attracting Diversity” projects and shared findings from the initial phases of her research.

The first of these two projects is looking at recruiting and supporting BME students in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities. Miriam discussed findings from the project so far, including how we had benchmarked our data, some issues around whether we always collected data on ethnicity, and some initial findings from the qualitative stage of the research.

The second of these projects is looking at recruiting and supporting students with specific learning difficulties, mental health, and autism spectrum conditions across the whole institution. Miriam spoke about the experience of running a participatory action project with this group, including some of the challenges around how to make the project truly participatory, and gave an overview of the student researchers’ initial ideas for their project. 

1st April 2017

HEFCE Catalyst Fund: Student Safeguarding on Campus

Miriam is involved in this HEFCE Catalyst project aimed at addressing sexual harassment and hate crime on campus. HEFCE has funded £2.45 million towards 63 projects, in response to Universities UK’s Harassment Taskforce report on the need for universities and colleges to do more to address these issues.

1st March 2017

Welcome on board!

Dr Zoe Baker joined WPREU as a Researcher & Student Engagement Practitioner to work on the ‘Equivalent Qualifications’ project, exploring how students with BTEC Level 3 qualifications experience the academic transition into, and through The University of Sheffield. (The Equivalent Qualifications project

7th of February 2017

Using critical realist evaluation methodology to assess the effectiveness of WP interventions and the wider WP context

Greg presented a paper introducing Realist Evaluation as an approach to evaluating WP interventions at NEON’s quarterly impact and evaluation group meeting at Loughborough University .

10th of January 2017

Academic transitions in the context of a research intensive institution at the Learning and Teaching Conference

Rita and Tom talked about an interesting emergent theme within the data collected from the student throughout the project, namely how they experience "research" in the context of their university studies.

5th December 2016

Welcome on board!

WPREU is pleased to introduce its new colleagues in the roles of researcher and evaluator: Miriam Miller and Greg Brown.

21st of November 2016

Increasing diversity: recruiting students from underrepresented groups

Colleagues across the University are working with WPREU staff on two collaborative projects with the Equalities Challenge Unit (ECU) to improve the recruitment of, and support for, under-represented groups within HE. The first of these two projects is looking at recruiting and supporting BME students in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities. The second of these projects is looking at recruiting and supporting students with specific learning difficulties, mental health, and autism spectrum conditions across the whole institution.

Reflections on the BME attainment gap at Sheffield

The BME attainment gap research outcomes as well as the literature review on this area is available to TUoS Staff. (Main project website)

27th of October 2016

Professor Jacqueline Stevenson - Reconceptualising Resiliance: Problematising Deficit Discourses and Enhancing Students' Sense of Mattering

Please find the recordings of this event amongst our lecture recordings.

20th of October 2016

Meeting OFFA: Financial… (Past), Present, Future?

Rita has talked to colleagues at the Office for Fair Access and the Higher Education Funding Council for England via their lunchtime seminars. The talk involved a short introduction to the project, and a detailed picture on financing the university years at Sheffield from a student perspective. Questions and comments noted the usefulness of such research to bring the 'outcomes' of OFFA's and HEFCE's work closer to them.

28th of September 2016

BERA 2016 Annual Conference, Leeds - September 2016

WPREU has teamed with colleagues from across the institution to bring together a symposium for the BERA Annual Conference in Leeds. In this innovative session we looked at academic transitions and inclusive learning from multiple different perspectives. Taking account of the student and the departmental tutor view as a case study, the experiences were compared and contrasted to the institutional strategy. We find that a dialogue is visible in the student and tutor relation, whereas linkages to the institutional strategy are further removed.

Julian Crockford, Rita Hordósy, Laura Lane & Louise Woodcock (2016): "Twice as hard to get your marks": Multiple perspectives on academic transition(s) in Higher Education. 2016 Annual Conference. Leeds.


Taking more of the results of the Sheffield Student 2013 to BERA this year as well, Rita talked about the variety and diversity in the activities students are involved with throughout the years of their studies. Extracurricular activities here are understood in a very broad sense of the word to help look beyond ‘employability’ as the context. This work suggests concerns around inclusivity, as well as financial issues. Moreover, it points to how we could re-focus talking about employability as an exploration rather than an endpoint of graduate jobs.

Rita Hordósy & Darcey Gillie (2016): What else do undergraduates do throughout their studies? – Student Transitions and extracurricular activities at British universities. 2016 Annual Conference. Leeds.

11th of April 2016

Widening Participation at Sheffield: Researcher/Practitioner Forum

WPREU’s third Practitioner/Researcher Forum took place on the 11th of April. Two major topics were covered before a panel discussion: first, the constraints and enablers of university choice and experience, followed by an introduction to research on the ethnicity attainment gap. The closing panel discussion explored the notion of inclusive learning and its relationship to widening participation. 

Following an introduction by Dr Julian Crockford, which included an overview of some of the themes emerging in recent HE WP policy developments, the first part of the day saw Zoe Baker, a PhD student from the School of Education, present her work on reflexivity in decision making on further and higher education pathways. She brought examples from interviews with her research participants, students in further education colleges, of the constraints and enablements they experienced with regards to career choice. Zoe mentioned financing open days and auditions as a potential barrier for some students and illuminated the value of alternative offers through outreach programmes supporting the planned pathway of the individual.

Aunam and StephDr Rita Hordósy, a post-doctoral researcher working at WPREU talked about the financial transitions throughout financing university in the context of the new tuition fee regime. She discussed some of the outcomes of the ‘Sheffield Student 2013’ longitudinal tracking project to highlight current students’ attitudes to tuition loan debt.

Rita mentioned that whereas students in their first year tended to think more about quantities on what they ‘get’ for the tuition fee, in their second year they talk more about the quality of their lectures. At the same time, the also begin to place more emphasis on their own engagement with their education alongside what they feel they gain from the institution. Download the latest student finance report here.

The second part of the day showcased the developments in the University’s research on the ethnicity attainment gap. Miriam Miller, former Women’s Officer for the Students Union and researcher on ethnicity related attainment gaps, provided a comprehensive overview of the national context and discussions of why ethnicity attainment gaps persist within higher education.

Miriam's presentation outlined the structure and content of the literature review she has written for the University’s use, which includes a section specifically on the experiences of BME students in particular and the responses and toolkits that a range of higher education institutions have produced in response to an ethnicity related attainment gap. Download the literature review here - TUoS Staff only.

Stephanie Powell and Aunam Quyoum presented the research they are engaged in as research interns for WPREU and Student Support and Wellbeing. Their presentation provided attendees with information on the University’s response to the ethnicity attainment gap and the research design of this particular project.

The mixed methods project Steph and Aunam presented at the forum included some of the first quantitative findings, as well as examples of initial themes emerging from qualitative research with current students. These themes included the need to manage the expectations of students and staff, experiences of teaching and learning and student support and wellbeing. Find out more about their research here - TUoS Staff only.


The panel discussion, chaired by Deanna Meth, Head of Projects and Developments, explored the relation between inclusive learning and widening participation. The panelists were Dr Zoe Ollerenshaw, Senior Lecturer in School of Law; Dr Camilla Priede, Programme Director in the Department for Lifelong Learning; Louise Woodcock, Head of Academic and Learning Services, Professor Wyn Morgan, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Learning and Teaching; and Dr Harriet Cameron, Academic Director of Specialist SpLD Tutorial Service. Discussion was a wide ranging survey of the potential and reality of developing inclusive learning and teaching across a diverse institution.

You can download the presentations from our resources site here - TUoS Staff only.

24th of February 2016

From the national to the local: the view from a city - SRHE Seminar at TUoS

WPREU hosted a seminar exploring the micro and the local in widening participation work. This seminar is part of a national series organised together with the Society for Research in Higher Education and the Universities Association for Lifelong Learning. The next event will be hosted by Sheffield Hallam University on the 8th of April.

The session brought together two papers and a case study to present different facets of widening participation research and practice at the national and local levels. The first part of the day examined the use of contextual data at the national level. In the first talk Professor Stephen Gorard explored the history and current state of using contextual data in admissions processes. He talked about the challenges of using contextual data especially in terms of data quality and missing information for different indicators commonly applied in WP research. Moving from the national picture to the regional and local aspects, Sol Gamsu’s talk contrasted the practices and strategies of widening participation successful in London with experiences in other UK cities. He also pointed to the inequalities in access to HE across different school types that are largely ignored in the literature praising the ‘London Effect’.

The second part of the day brought together local school partners and the University of Sheffield’s outreach professionals for a discussion of the challenges of collaborating and building relationships between the secondary and the tertiary sectors. Alison McKenzie and Kim Simms from the Outreach and Widening Participation team talked about the challenges of forging and keeping relationships with schools and the use of data to target outreach activities better. Becs McCairns from King Ecgbert School and Emily Martin from Ecclesfield School talked about their experiences of working with different universities and the differences outreach work does for their students.

You can find the podcasts and the presentations on the event website


Stephen Gorard is Professor of Education and Public Policy, and Fellow of the Wolfson Research Institute at Durham University, and Honorary Professorial Fellow at the University of Birmingham. His work concerns the robust evaluation of education as a lifelong process, focused on issues of equity and effectiveness.

Sol Gamsu is a final year PhD student in the Department of Geography, King’s College London. His research examines inequalities in student trajectories at 16, the end of secondary education in the UK and at 18/19 on entry to university.

Alison McKenzie is the Manager of Strategic Partnerships & Communications in the Outreach and Widening Participation team.

Kim Simms is working in the Outreach and Widening Participation team at the University of Sheffield managing data and communications.

Becs McCairns works at King Ecgbert School as Assistant Head teacher and Director of Sixth Form.

Emily Martin is currently working as an Assistant Head at Ecclesfield School with responsibility for KS3 Progress and intervention, literacy, SEND.

12th of February 2016

Researching Higher Education: The Next Five Years - One Day Conference, TUoS

Laura, Julian and Rita gave papers at the annual conference of the School of Education at Kenwood Hall this year as well. 

Laura's paper looked at how thinking about the different sets of ideas underpinning official policy texts can help in understanding their ‘messy’ nature. This paper considered how these claims have played out in the higher education White Papers published in England since 1987. 

Julian's paper suggested there are no ‘silver bullets’ as far as WP evaluation is concerned. With a particular focus on the setting and clarification of objectives for both the evaluation process and the evaluated WP projects themselves, this paper explored some of the key methodological challenges posed by the increasing policy pressure and suggested some possible ways to respond.

Rita's paper described the student budget of the second generation of undergraduates who started their studies under the new tuition fee regime, contrasting the experiences of low and high income students.  In the context of becoming independent, the paper contrasted the experiences of traditional and non-traditional students more broadly, with referring to the financial shortfalls some of them experience throughout their studies. 

4th of December 2015

WPREU Researcher / Practitioner Forum - 23rd of November 2015

WPREU held a successful forum at the University of Sheffield on 23 November. The forum brought together researchers and practitioners with an interest in widening participation from across the University. This is the second University-wide event WPREU has organised this year and forms part of a programme of twice yearly forums aimed at sharing research and promoting discussion on topics of widening participation and equity in higher education and, specifically, within the University.

The papers presented at the November event covered the following themes:

  • Possible impacts on widening participation of the recently published Higher Education Green Paper, Fulfilling our Potential
  • An overview of how access, participation and social mobility have been represented in national higher education policy in England over the last 25 years and reflection on the future direction of widening participation policy
  • Mature learners at the University of Sheffield with a specific focus on lessons learnt from the recent development of new full-time foundation programmes developed by the Department for Lifelong Learning (DLL)
  • A consideration of the challenges to reaching potential mature learners and successes of the DLL Discover programme
  • Introdcution to the work with Looked After Children and the evaluation of the Homework club.

Link to all presentations from the day (TUoS Staff only).

The next WPREU forum will be held on campus in March 2016. If you would be interested in presenting a paper and/or attending, please contact

3rd of December 2015

'Researching the Micro and Local in Widening Participation Practice' - WPREU hosts SRHE seminar

Date for your diary: February 24th

Title of upcoming seminar: From the national to the local: the view from a city

This session will explore crucial elements of widening participation interventions by exploring the relationships between the school sector and higher education institutions. Two papers and one case study will be used to present different facets of this relationship at the national and local levels. The first part of the day examines the use of contextual data at the national level, and the practices and strategies of widening participation at the local level, contrasting London with other UK cities. The second part of the day brings together a local sixth form college manager and an HE outreach professional for a discussion of the challenges of collaborating across this sector divide.

More information: Society for Higher Education Research events

8th October 2015

WPREU at international conferences: EERA and BERA 2015


Colleagues from WPREU have been talking about our work at international conferences in the past two weeks. First, Rita gave two papers at the European Educational Research Association’s annual conference in Budapest. In the first paper she talked about the multiplicity of transitions in the context of starting university life. This paper attempted to conceptualise and model student transitions in the current context. The second paper Rita gave was part of a symposium organised together with colleagues from the Eötvös Loránd University, Corvinus University of Budapest, University of Leicester, and University of Manchester that explored extra-curricular activities in the light of student transitions in England, Hungary and Romania. Rita talked about the STP2013 project and the outcomes with regards to extra-curricular activities at a British university.

Our colleagues from WPREU along with Catherine McKeown Student Finance and Professor Gareth Parry from the School of Education presented papers at last week’s annual BERA Conference at Queen's University Belfast. WPREU organised a symposia to discuss the translation of national policy into institutional practice with regards to student finance. In the first half of the symposium, Julian from WPREU talked about the changed of the national policy scene and the changes over the past few years and how the University of Sheffield reacted to these changes. Then Catherine provided an overview of her work in professional services related to student finance. In the second half of the workshop WPREU's research was showcased, starting from the finance survey and finishing with the work from the Sheffield Student 2013 project. Our discussant, Gareth gave his views on the symposia and our work before an exciting discussion with audience members. In a separate paper Rita talked about the topic of academic transitions in the context of starting university life at BERA. This presentation is some exploratory work on how to view and conceptualise transitions in the current context.

These conferences gave great publicity to our work on widening participation at Sheffield and allowed us to meet great researchers from across the world.

High praise for our fair access research

Student in library

The Office for Fair Access (OFFA), the independent regulator of fair access to higher education in England, has today (16 July 2015) approved our access agreement for 2016–17.

The news comes as Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson, who has recently made a clear commitment to fair access and widening participation, visits our AMRC to deliver his first major speech on science and innovation.

James Busson, Head of Outreach and Widening Participation, gives an overview of our access agreement: "We have set ambitious targets to improve the number of undergraduate students entering from low participation neighbourhoods and low socio-economic groups, as well as mature students and those wishing to study part time.

“We have committed to spend 28.7 per cent, £13.1million, of our additional fees income to improve access, student success and progression of students from disadvantaged backgrounds during 2016–17.

“This will enable us to support these students right through the student life cycle though a variety of outreach activity, tailored support whilst studying, career and postgraduate study advice and bursaries and financial support."

The access agreements I have approved today show that universities and colleges are setting stretching and ambitious targets to attract students from disadvantaged areas and then support them through their studies.

Professor Les Ebdon, Director of Fair Access to Higher Education (Source:

OFFA has also highlighted our efforts to bring together widening participation research and practice as an example of best practice across the higher education sector.

Dr Julian Crockford, Widening Participation Research and Evaluation Unit Manager, explains: “In 2012 we set up a dedicated widening participation research and evaluation unit (WPREU) and we are still one of a very small number of institutions to have dedicated substantial resources to this important work.

“WPREU has been involved in a wide range of work intended to bring together the academic and practitioner aspects of widening participation and student success and progression and ensuring that our strategy, policy and practice is founded in evidence-based practice.

“Our Sheffield Student 2013 project, for example, which is hosted by WPREU and is a collaborative project with colleagues from the Departments of Geography and Sociological Studies, has been following the undergraduate cohort of 2013 throughout their studies, tracking an initial sample of 40 students across three years of study.”

Post-doctoral researcher for the project, Rita Hordósy, added: “Our research seeks to compare the experiences of students who come from different backgrounds to provide some context to our University’s mission in widening participation and fair access.

“We are now starting to gain a deeper understanding of the transition process into our University, the financial aspects of student life, and more broadly, the student experience, and this will help us to develop institutional policy recommendations regarding student support.”

Get involved

Your case studies wanted:

WPREU supports discussion and shares ideas and thinking between colleagues working in any capacity in widening participation or student success. They’d love to hear from you – share examples of good practice, highlight relevant research or evaluation issues, discuss the evaluation of a particular outreach, student success activity or programme.

New bulletin coming soon:

WPREU will shortly be sending out the first in a series of email bulletins intended for everyone with an interest in fair access and student success issues. Contributions are welcome from all staff.

Widening participation researcher-practitioner forums:

The next in a regular series of WP researcher-practitioner forums will take place in November and will feature discussions about fair access and success for part-time and mature learners, amongst other topics. Suggestions welcome from everyone who is interested in contributing to future events.



12 June 2014

The Widening Participation Research and Evaluation Unit lead a successful workshop at the BSA Education Study Group Conference entitled Making a Market in Higher Education: Changing landscape, continuing inequalities? on the 12th June 2014. The Sheffield Institute of Education at Sheffield Hallam University organised this conference.

The conference brought together researchers from across the HE sector in Britain and provided insight into several interesting areas around the marketization of education. Paul Wakeling from the University of York talked about a possible new classification of social class that emerged from the Great British Class Survey and how this classification shows a persistent effect of the type of higher education institution attended and the individual's social class. Colin McCraig and Carol Taylor provided insight into their work around evaluating the impact of student number controls and its substantial unintended consequences. Emmanuel Mogaji presented his research regarding the lack of images that would show black and minority ethnic students and staff through the university's public representations, their websites. Nicola Ingram from the University of Bath and Richard Waller from the University of West of England presented their work on a longitudinal tracking project Paired Peers, and some aspects around the interaction between social class and the aspiration of working in highly competitive finance jobs. The keynote speaker Andrew McGettigan talked about the recent scandal of private colleges multiplying student numbers on their courses within the course of one or two years that seems to suggest that there will be not enough resources to cater for these students.

The title of the workshop lead by WPREU was Research into widening participation and the student experience at the University of Sheffield. This workshop brought together multiple viewpoints on the changes in higher education. It first drew on the practitioner view of how national policies impact on the institutional level, than provided national comparative data regarding widening participation to end the session with some insight into the student experience.

Abstracts of papers presented at this conference:

Policy changes regarding widening participation: what are the implications?

Recent changes to HE policy, such as the ending of Aimhigher, the transition to attainment-based student number controls, and, in particular, the introduction of higher fees have stirred the system substantially, and it is not yet clear what impact they will have on universities. This paper will provide a practitioner's view of some of the policy changes that have altered the landscape of higher education in England and suggest how they have impacted on efforts to widen HE participation.

One of the University of Sheffield's responses to this changing environment was to create a Widening Participation Research and Evaluation Unit (WPREU). This unit is responsible for generating institution specific WP research and evaluating the impact of the University's WP outreach and student success/progression activities. The paper will briefly describe the Unit's developing research strategy and approach. It will set the scene for the second paper by highlighting some of the outcomes of its recent evaluation work and discussing the Unit's exploration of student decision making.

Students' understanding of their place in a marketised higher education

BSA conference at SHULittle is currently known about how contemporary students are experiencing the current changes to the student finance system or the increasing marketization of HE, nor of how they are responding to the prospect of starting their working life with a much higher level of debt than their predecessors. This paper draws on preliminary first year outcomes of 'Sheffield Student 2013', a research project focussing on student experiences at the University of Sheffield.

This tracking project follows the undergraduate cohort of 2013 through to their graduation in June 2016. It aims to explore the expectations and realities of contemporary student life and to understand the multiple transitions students are required to navigate throughout their academic, social, and financial lives. Utilising a longitudinal design with quantitative and qualitative methods of data collection and analysis, the project will also explore how the university's support networks respond to the experiences of this new generation of students. The initial round of interviews are conducted with current first year students in the spring semester of 2013/2014. In this paper we will outline our initial findings and explore what they tell us about the choices made by contemporary students, their attitudes to financial issues, and how they think about the significant investment they are making in their education.

Colleagues involved:

- Julian Crockford (WPREU)
- Kimberley Simm (WPREU)
- Rita Hordósy (WPREU)
- Tom Clark (Department of Sociological Studies)
- Dan Vickers (Department of Geography)