We’ve identified four key areas where we can support students from less advantaged backgrounds to overcome the barriers that they face when accessing higher education – through no fault of their own.

The confidence to achieve

The first barrier is self-efficacy, or confidence with university learning. Less advantaged students may not have the knowledge or networks to know what university learning is like or how to access it. This is where The Scholars Programme comes in.

The Scholars Programme gives students aged 8-18 the chance to learn beyond the curriculum, so that they can build the knowledge, skills and confidence to apply to the most competitive universities. They take part in a series of university-style tutorials, delivered by a PhD researcher over the course of an academic term, and take part in a Graduation event with partner universities. Our PhD tutors inspire students with their expertise and love of learning.

We have been running independent UCAS evaluations on The Scholars Programme since 2017. Each evaluation has shown that this programme makes a statistically significant difference to university application.

We also work with partners to design bespoke projects to support target groups you’d like to support to enter your institution. More information on these projects is available here.


We know that attainment is the biggest barrier to accessing university, and we’ve identified where we can support. Recent findings using data from the Higher Education Access Tracker (HEAT) have shown that students who did The Scholars Programme in Year 8, 9 or 10 were more likely to achieve a 9-5 in maths and English than students who scored similarly at Key Stage 2 within their schools.

Drawing on our experience of delivering tutoring in schools through The Brilliant Tutoring Programme, 2023 saw the pilot launch of our new curriculum-focused attainment-raising programme, called Make your Mark, developed through a collaboration with the University of Sussex, and using an attainment-raising model designed by our Research and Impact Department.

University transitions

Disadvantaged university students are almost 2x as likely to drop out of their undergraduate course in the first year and 3x more likely to miss out on a 1st or a 2:1 degree.

Join the Dots is a national transition programme which supports students from the end of their time at school or college and through their first term at university.

Join the Dots is targeted at students who are most likely to face barriers in making a successful transition to university, and who are at risk of missing out on the lifechanging opportunities that come from successfully earning a degree from a competitive university. A coach supports students in their first term at university through coaching (1-1 and peer group) and provides a link for students between their school or college and their university’s support systems.

Sign up for year two of the programme is now underway. To express interest in the programme which is free of charge for schools and colleges, get in touch today.

Empowering parents and carers

We know that parents and carers play a huge role in a young person’s education, and that engagement isn’t about doing things ‘to’ a community, but with them. In partnership with King’s College London and Citizens UK, we’ve created Parent Power which empowers communities of parents in a local area to take action on education.

We listen to the community about the barriers to accessing HE in their community and train them in community organising so that they can take action on these issues. Every Parent Power is different, and raises different challenges specific to that area. In Fenland, for example, parents are campaigning for improved public transport so their students can access the University of Cambridge and the University of East Anglia. In Cardiff, parents are working with Cardiff University to improve parental understanding of student finance.

We’re also building a national network of parents which we think could bring useful perspectives to the sector as whole.