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Executive summary


Realising Opportunities (RO) is a unique collaboration

of leading universities who have made a long term

commitment to sharing their practice in widening

participation, fair access and social mobility. Led by

Newcastle University, RO aims to promote progression

for able students from under-represented groups to

research intensive universities (RIUs) in England.

Initially funded by the Higher Education Funding Council

for England (HEFCE) in August 2012 the Partnership

became self-funded with each Partner making an equal

annual contribution.


The RO Partnership provides a supportive programme

to students in Years 12 and 13 with good academic

attainment from disadvantaged backgrounds. The RO

programme gives students a wide range of information

and support to make informed choices about going to

university, and whether they could attend a RIU – those

that produce high-quality research, where researchers

are experts in their fields, and where teaching is

research-led or research-informed. The tenth cohort of

students was recruited to the programme in autumn 2018.


The programme has a robust evaluation framework

that involves the collection of student contextual data,

student surveys at different stages of the programme

and beyond, tracking through UCAS application data,

and the Higher Education Applicant Tracker (HEAT)

using Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) data.


Since it began, RO has successfully recruited ‘most

able, least likely’ students – 99% of the 6,000 starters

to date have achieved eight or more GCSE passes at

A*-C/9-4 grades, and they come from a wide range of

disadvantaged backgrounds, with 91% having parents

with no experience of higher education, two thirds coming

from areas with the lowest HE participation rates based

on polar quintiles and nearly one in three having been

eligible for free school meals.


Participation in the programme increases students’

understanding of RIUs, and university life, and makes

them better prepared for university – of the most recent

cohort, 70% knew more about what a RIU is at the end

of the programme than at the beginning, 57% knew more

about what student life is like, and nearly half were better

prepared for living away from home and managing their



The vast majority (84%) of participants apply to

university at the end of Year 13, double the overall

proportion of 18 year olds who apply to university. Two

thirds (67%) of the latest cohort to become HE ready

started university, which compares with the overall rate

for all 18 year olds of 33%, and the rate of 59% for a

similar comparator group that had participated in different

outreach activities.


Around one in three RO students attend RIUs, compared

with one in four in the comparator group.


Nearly two thirds of RO students said that participation

in the programme was very important or quite important in

encouraging them to go to university.


Students who successfully complete the RO programme,

and apply to a RO Partner university, can receive an

offer up to two grades lower than the standard offer

for the course. This ‘alternative offer’ has helped up

to 430 students across the first six cohorts take up a

place at a RO university that they otherwise might not

have obtained – just over half of all those who have

attended RO Partner universities.


RO students have broadened their study horizons and

become more geographically mobile over time. The

proportion attending their ‘host’ university has declined

substantially, from one in three students in Cohort 1

to one in ten students in Cohort 6, and successive

Cohorts have tended to travel further on average to go

to university, up from 35 miles in Cohort 1 to 55 miles in

Cohort 6. RO students are more likely to travel away from

their home region to go to university than all students

from low socio-economic groups.


Once at university, RO students are more likely than

students overall to stay on their course. The average

drop-out rate for RO students across Cohorts 1 to 5

was 4%, which compares with the average for all

students (including those from the most advantaged

backgrounds) of 6%.


Four fifths (80%) of the most recent graduates obtained

a First Class or Upper Second Class degree, slightly

above the overall proportion of 76% of all students

including those from the most advantaged backgrounds.


RO graduates are just as likely as graduates overall to

enter graduate-level employment or take up further study,

with an above average proportion entering further study.