Share this story   

Driving diversity: our commitment to inclusive access and participation

Education, access and future skills Durham inspires      
to read

We welcome students from all backgrounds, encouraging everyone who has the potential to succeed to explore what we have to offer. From raising aspirations, delivering information and advice sessions to pupils in schools and colleges across the country, providing travel bursaries for our open days to contextual offers – we're committed to fair access and widening participation.

Direct responsibility for access, recruitment and admissions provision sits with our Deputy Academic Registrar (Access, Recruitment and Admissions) Jon Batty.

Jon joined Durham in September 2023 with more than 10 years’ experience in student recruitment and marketing within Higher Education.

After taking up his position in September last year, Dialogue caught up with Jon to find out more about the access and widening participation agenda.

Jon Batty at  the 2024 Advancing Access Teacher Conference
Jon Batty at the 2024 Advancing Access Teacher Conference

What are we doing to attract students with the potential to thrive at Durham, no matter their background?

In previous iterations of the University’s Access and Participation Plan (APP), there was a target to reduce the ratio of POLAR4 Quintiles 5 to 1. POLAR Quintile 5 students are the most represented in higher education and Quintile 1 students are the least represented in higher education. In 2016/17, the ratio was 12.9:1, and this had reduced to 5:1 by 2021/22. This highlights the University’s commitment to achieving the targets outlined in the APP.

This was achieved through a commitment to improving access via intervention activities and contextual offers. Not everyone has the same opportunities in life. Where you live, the school you attend, and your social and economic background might have an impact on your educational achievement. A contextual offer is an offer made to applicants where the grades needed are lower than our standard entry requirements. Around half of all contextual offer entrants had predicted and achieved A-level grades that were below the standard offer for their course, indicating that, for many of these students, a contextualised approach to admission was needed to enable an initial offer to be made and subsequently confirmed. The only other high tariff universities to make progress in that same period were Oxford 6.8:1 and Cambridge 10:1, however Durham’s ratio of 5:1 stood out.

That said, there is still more to do to ensure that students from all backgrounds thrive at Durham. We’re working closely with the Students’ Union, colleges, academic departments and professional services staff to develop initiatives that will further improve outcomes for these student groups. Students at Durham already achieve exceptional outcomes compared to the wider sector, but our focus will be to ensure that all student groups have an equal opportunity to succeed by acknowledging the unique challenges they experience.

How do we promote university education to students who are traditionally under-represented in higher education?

We need to make positive changes in three key areas: knowledge of higher education, aspiration to attend higher education, and finally confidence to attend higher education.

As a University, our role is to meet them where they are, to augment our messages to meet and enhance their current understanding and work with individuals over a sustained period. This approach ensures that prospective students are appropriately informed to make the right decision for them.

What are the biggest barriers to people accessing university and how are we helping to overcome them?

Barriers often fall into three main categories: financial, academic and social.

Financial obstacles, such as tuition fees and living expenses, can deter some students from applying to university due to the high costs involved. To support students from lower-income backgrounds, we offer a range of scholarships, bursaries, and financial aids including the Durham Grant Scheme, which has provided up to £2,000 per academic year based on household income.

Academic challenges may arise from students from disadvantaged backgrounds who may not have the same level of preparedness as their peers. To enable these students to access and succeed at Durham, we run foundation year programmes designed to help students meet entry requirements. We also make contextual offers to students who may face additional barriers to entry, resulting in a greater diversity among our student body.

Social barriers can hinder the integration of first-generation university students and those from diverse cultural backgrounds into university culture. College life, student societies, and integration activities can help new students feel welcomed and supported.

Our 2022 Wider Student Experience Survey showed that active participation in extra-curricular activities correlates strongly with skills development. This trend was strongest among UK undergraduate students, with students from areas of lower HE participation (POLAR4 quintile) and BAME backgrounds benefiting the most from this engagement.

How does the new Access and Participation Plan, which will take effect from 2025/26 differ from previous plans?

We are currently developing the University’s new Access and Participation Plan, ready for approval by the Office for Students in September 2024. The plan has been developed in consultation with a wide range of stakeholders across the University, to ensure the collective vision of students, staff and our local communities.

Our focus is on improving access to under-represented groups, specifically those from TUNDRA Q1, individuals from Black heritage backgrounds and those from Asian heritage backgrounds. We recognise that a diverse student body contributes significantly to the learning environment, providing opportunities for students to engage with peers from various ethnicities, religions, socioeconomic backgrounds, and geographic origins. These interactions foster critical thinking, challenge assumptions and encourage the development of empathy and cross-cultural communication skills. The exchange of diverse viewpoints in classroom discussions, group projects, and study teams leads to a more robust and nuanced understanding of the material, preparing students to navigate and contribute to an increasingly interconnected world.

The plan will also renew our focus on student success measures, such as continuation, completion, attainment and progression. Our aim is to ensure that all student groups achieve success at Durham, and this means working hard to intervene if we identify unexplained gaps in success measures.

Finally, we have outlined a monitoring and evaluation plan that will enable us to fully understand the effectiveness and impact of our efforts. This will help to direct future iterations of our plans, ensuring we use our evaluation to directly influence change. When we learn what works at Durham we can begin to progress sustainably, and at a faster rate. Karen Jones, Senior Evaluation and Monitoring Manager, has been fundamental to our efforts to improve evaluation.

Students at the 2024 Advancing Access Teachers Conference
Students at the 2024 Advancing Access Teachers Conference

What do you love most about your role?

I have the opportunity to meet new people constantly. I find engaging with individuals from diverse backgrounds and experiences alters my perspective and constantly teaches me something new. I’d also say that my role provides a unique platform to challenge the status quo. I often find myself questioning why and thinking critically about how we can improve systems and processes. This not only leads to innovation and growth but also ensures that we are not complacent in our approaches.

At heart, I like working with people, so I like that my position allows me to enable voices to be heard. I don’t think I’ll ever achieve a change on my own, so I lend my voice to those who need it most. Whether it's through team meetings, community engagements, or advocating for voices that might otherwise be overlooked. Facilitating discussions where everyone feels heard and valued contributes to meaningful, sustainable change.

More about Jon…

Away from work, what’s your idea of a perfect day off?

An ideal day off would be a warm day spent with my children outside. I love to watch them play and interact, and being outdoors is a nice way of being more active.

How do you look after your mental health?

I don’t consciously do anything for my mental health, but I like to exercise. Playing football or rugby gives me a lot of social benefits, which I think is important. As a parent it’s easy to lose your identity, so I do my best to make time for socialising. Similarly, I find going to the gym gives me time to mentally reset and spend an hour in a thoughtless space in my mind.

What is your favourite food?

I’d probably say my restaurant of choice would be a Mexican restaurant but I’m the kind of person that eats anything.

Where has been your best holiday?

My best holiday was probably the first time I went to Mexico. The mixture of getting away from the UK winter, accidentally choosing a brilliant hotel and being particularly ready for a break, seemed to be the perfect mix.



   Share this story   

Start the discussion



Do you have a story to share? We want to hear from you! Get in touch via