Widening Participation Research

The University of Glasgow conducts research and evaluation to inform widening access practice and policy, both within our own institution and across the Scottish Higher Education (HE) sector.  Our research also underlines the impact and efficacy of our Widening Participation (WP) programmes and provision.

Evaluation of our own suite of WP programmes is continuous, with the collection of feedback from participants and other stakeholders, alongside the longitudinal monitoring of students’ success and experiences in HE, informing programme development on an ongoing basis. We are also responsible for further Widening Participation research projects, supported by both internal and external funding. Additionally, we work in collaboration with colleagues across the sector and regularly support student research projects.

You will find details on our prior research and evaluation as well as current projects and priorities below, including the relevant contact details and references for further information.

The Top-Up Programme: Two decades of widening participation provides evidence of impact

Longitudinal research into outcomes for students who participated in the Top-Up Programme before entering an undergraduate degree at the University of Glasgow between 2004 and 2016 was published in the journal of Widening Participation and Lifelong Learning in February 2023.


This paper highlights a successful pre-entry programme whilst providing an example of evaluation research methodology. The key contribution made is the power of scale. As the programme has been running since 1999 with the same aims, academic focus and structures, it provides the unique extent of longitudinal data available for study. Comparative analysis to determine student success outcomes utilised the methodology described by Walker et al (2004), for performance in Year 1 of a single cohort, and was expanded to include statistical analysis of student continuation and degree completion. The intervention group, who participated in the widening participation programme before commencing an undergraduate degree at one higher education institution, is more socio-economically disadvantaged than the comparison groups and yet, we demonstrated no significant difference in outcomes at cohort level. We show that those from the most socioeconomically disadvantaged postcodes were slightly more likely to perform well in Year 1, continue and complete their degree. We conclude the programme engages with and provides the most benefit for the widening access target group identified by the Scottish Government.

Access the full paper at: https://www.ingentaconnect.com/contentone/openu/jwpll/2023/00000024/00000003/art00002


For more information, please contact:

Dr Neil Croll, Head of Widening Participation & Lifelong Learning, at neil.croll@glasgow.ac.uk

Alison Browitt, WP Research & Evaluation Officer, at alison.browitt@glasgow.ac.uk

Senior Phase Tutoring Programme

The University of Glasgow Widening Participation team are running the second year of a pilot with 5 Glasgow City secondary schools to evaluate the impact of providing tutor group sessions for Senior Phase pupils.

The University of Glasgow tutors work online with small groups of pupils over 5-8 weeks to improve academic attainment in Maths, Biology, Chemistry, Physics or English and improve the pupils’ prospects of progression to Higher Education. The evaluation of the pilot is underway to inform future tutoring programmes.

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For more information about the Tutoring Programme, please contact: denise.hooper@glasgow.ac.uk or kirsty.lusk@glasgow.ac.uk

For more information about the evaluation of the pilot, please contact:


A Blueprint for Fairness in the Glasgow Region: Exploring widening access activities to inform a collaborative, regional approach

The Blueprint for Fairness in the Glasgow Region Project was established, with funding from the SFC, in response to the Commission on Widening Access (CoWA), and specifically Recommendation 4 of its final report that states ‘Universities, colleges, local authorities, schools, SFC funded access programmes and early years providers should work together to deliver a coordinated approach to access which removes duplication and provides a coherent and comprehensive offer to learners’.

The project was a collaborative effort from the start, with the project board having representation from Glasgow City Council, colleges and universities in the region, and FOCUS West. Quantitative and qualitative research was undertaken with relevant stakeholders in the field of Widening Access (WA) and school education to inform proposals for a regional approach.

The research report by Alison Browitt and Dr Robert Ingram (December 2018) details the research questions and findings, with the 17 recommendations arising from the research outlined in three sections – current WA activities that are proving to be beneficial and should be continued; current WA work that may go some way towards addressing issues but should be developed and/or expanded; and recommendations for new developments to address gaps in current WA provision.

Access the project report at:


For more information, contact the Project Board (as detailed on page 1), or Alison Browitt

The research aimed to underpin ongoing practical work to implement proposals. Three initial workstreams were established to progress collaborative work in the areas of:

  1. Primary and Parental Engagement;
  2. Teacher CPD;
  3. Communications, Logistics and Metrics.


One of the first outputs of this research is the Primary Engagement Programme hosted on Skill Development Scotland's My World of Work website: https://www.myworldofwork.co.uk/widening-access-lesson-plans

How to Engage With MD40 Pupils in Higher Progression Schools

The project, ‘University of Glasgow and West of Scotland Local Authority partners: how to engage with MD40 pupils in higher progression schools’, was supported by the Scottish Funding Council’s Impact for Access fund in 2015, and helped identify and define a gap in widening access provision.

WP programmes were typically targeted at schools with low progression rates to HE. However, there are pupils from socio-economically disadvantaged neighbourhoods in every school across Scotland. In order to identify the numbers of MD20/MD40 pupils attending higher progression schools, and to examine how many early leavers among them had an attainment profile which suggested HE study could have been possible, the project team, in partnership with the West of Scotland Local Authorities, carried out mixed methods research:

  • quantitative research using publically available datasets and the Insight Analytical Dataset from Scottish Government Education Analytical Services;
  • qualitative research with over 1,000 local pupils, parents, teachers and students;
  • pilot activities were conducted and evaluated to test methods of early engagement with pupils in higher progression schools.

Key project findings include:

  • residential postcode is a factor, no matter which school attended;
  • MD40 pupils attending higher progression schools are progressing to HE and attaining qualifications at a lower rate in comparison to their peers from wealthier areas and the gap is larger than for MD40 pupils in lower progression schools;
  • males perform consistently worse than females;
  • care experienced pupils progress in the lowest numbers of all pupils.

A pattern of low attainment, leading to leaving school early and not progressing to HE, emerged and informed our recommendations for widening participation practice, policy and strategy.


Download a full copy of the report here [PDF].


For more information, please contact the University of Glasgow project team:

Dr Neil Croll (Head of Widening Participation) neil.croll@glasgow.ac.uk;

Alison Browitt (Widening Participation & Student Retention Research & Evaluation Officer) alison.browitt@glasgow.ac.uk;

Monika Anderson (WP Officer) monika.anderson@glasgow.ac.uk;

Kelly Hedge-Holmes (Top-Up Programme Coordinator) kelly.hedge-holmes@glasgow.ac.uk.

Evaluation of University Of Glasgow Widening Participation Pre-entry Programmes

The University of Glasgow has a well-established suite of pre-entry programmes that aim to promote aspiration to study in HE, widen access through admissions agreements and use of contextualised admissions, and prepare students for successful study. We facilitate this portfolio of academically-based outreach pre-entry programmes individually and in collaboration. Partners include: Local Authorities; 150+ secondary schools; national WP programmes; Scottish Wider Access Programme; other HEIs and FE Colleges; charitable organisations.

30,000+ S1-S6 pupils and adult learners participate in these programmes on an annual basis. Around one-third of annual undergraduate entrants to UoG are from WP backgrounds.

The Widening Participation team evaluate our pre-entry programmes continuously, using feedback surveys, focus groups and interviews to inform programme improvement and development.

In addition, the impact of these programmes, on student retention and on the student experience, has been researched and examined on an ongoing basis for almost 20 years. Our research demonstrates that students who have participated in a pre-entry programme are more likely to continue and complete their studies, when compared to comparator groups of peers. It also shows that our pre-entry programmes are particularly effective for those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.



Croll, N & Browitt, A (2015) Pre-entry Widening Participation Programmes at the University of Glasgow: Preparing Applicants for Successful Transitions to Degree Study, QAA Scotland: Enhancement and Innovation in Higher Education, June 2015, conference proceedings.


MacEachern, K, Iguchi-Sherry, S & Tansley, L (2015) Reach Scotland: Supporting the Transition to Professional Degree Study, QAA Scotland: Enhancement and Innovation in Higher Education, June 2015, conference proceedings‌.


Walker, L, Matthew, B and Black, F (2004) Widening access and student non-completion: an inevitable link? Evaluating the Effects of the Top-Up Programme on Student Completion, International Journal of Lifelong Education, vol 23, no 1, pp 43-59.


For more information, contact the Widening Participation team: WP Team Contacts.

Enhancing Engagement and Transition of Local Students

This project, ‘Enhancing engagement of local ‘commuter’ students at induction to support transition and promote student retention and success’, was supported by the University of Glasgow Learning & Teaching Development Fund in 2012. Qualitative research was carried out to examine the experiences of local ‘commuter’ or ‘home’ students at the University of Glasgow, and to inform how best to support and encourage this group to engage more with University life from induction week onwards.

A very successful ‘Local Student Orientation Day’ was developed, piloted with 2013 entrants and evaluated as part of the project.  This event is now established as part of our standard provision for local and widening participation students and runs in the week before Freshers’ Week, welcoming over 500 new local students annually.  Research and evaluation continues to show this event has a positive impact on the students’ experiences of starting University and that attendees are more likely to continue in their studies beyond year 1.

For more information, please contact:

Alison Browitt (WP & Student Retention Research & Evaluation Officer) alison.browitt@glasgow.ac.uk


Or see:

Browitt, A & Croll, N (2015) Enhancing engagement of local ‘commuter’ students at induction to support transition and promote student retention and success, QAA Scotland: Enhancement and Innovation in Higher Education, June 2015, conference proceedings. Enhancing Engagement of Local Commuting Students.

Researching and Developing Contextualised Admissions

The University of Glasgow has a comprehensive Undergraduate Admissions Policy which incorporates our WP Admissions policy and outlines our contextualised admissions adjustments. These adjustments are designed to promote fair access and take into account participation in our pre-entry programmes, alongside a range of other contextual factors: Adjusted Offers.


The contextualised admissions policy at the University of Glasgow was informed by research into the impact of our Widening Participation pre-entry programmes and the contextual data model developed as part of the SFC-funded Reach Programme. Our work in this area has also contributed to understanding across the sector, through our involvement in the SPA (Supporting Professionalism in Admissions) Scottish National Expert Think Tank, 2013/14, outputs available at: https://www.ucas.com/providers/good-practice/contextualised-admissions .


For more information please contact:

Dr Neil Croll (Head of Widening Participation) neil.croll@glasgow.ac.uk;

Alison Browitt (WP & Student Retention Research & Evaluation Officer) alison.browitt@glasgow.ac.uk.

What Works? Student Retention and Success Change Programme

The University of Glasgow participated in the ‘What Works? Student retention & success change programme’; a Paul Hamlyn Foundation initiative working with the Higher Education Academy, Action on Access and 13 UK universities over three years, 2012-2015. The programme built on the findings of Phase 1 of the ‘What Works? programme’, that student engagement and a sense of belonging promotes student retention and success. 


The project team participated in the national programme and activities and had an institution-level focus on improving data as indicators of student retention and success.  Initiatives to promote student engagement and belonging were designed and evaluated in three academic Schools under the three programme themes of Active Learning, Induction and Co-Curricular Activity:

  • The School of Engineering evaluated a major change to the first year curriculum incorporating a more pronounced active learning element.
  • The School of Life Sciences extended induction with innovative use of Moodle to engage with a large first year class.
  • The School of Interdisciplinary Studies (Dumfries campus) created ‘CLANs’, a peer-mentoring scheme.


Details on this project are available at: https://www.advance-he.ac.uk/guidance/teaching-and-learning/student-retention-and-success/what-works-student-retention-and-success-change-programme


For more information, please contact the University of Glasgow project team:

Alison Browitt (Project Manager) alison.browitt@glasgow.ac.uk;

Dr Donald Ballance (Project Lead and School of Engineering) donald.ballance@glasgow.ac.uk;

Dr Chris Finlay and Dr Maureen Griffiths (School of Life Sciences) chris.finlay@glasgow.ac.uk

Carlo Rinaldi (School of Interdisciplinary Studies) carlo.rinaldi@glasgow.ac.uk.

How concepts of ability, talent and potential affect applications to university by Scottish young people from an area of high deprivation

How concepts of ability, talent and potential affect applications to university by Scottish young people from an area of high deprivation

Researcher: Catherine Reid

Supervisor: Dr Margaret Sutherland and Professor Ellen Boeren

Course: PhD in Education

Widening Participation to Higher Education is an important and longstanding issue for Scottish education and for the field as a whole. The University of Glasgow strives to ensure that students with talent and potential are able to attend university regardless of their circumstances. But how do the key relationships in a young person's life shape their understanding of talent and potential? This mixed methods study will use secondary data, questionnaires and semi-structured interviews to examine how young people from areas of deprivation understand ability and how this influences their decisions to apply to higher education.

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Contact: Catherine Reid - c.reid.2@research.gla.ac.uk