press release
Published: 05 September 2023

Targeted support needed for students from widening participation backgrounds to access sandwich courses

Students from widening participation (WP) backgrounds* would benefit from targeted support to access sandwich courses, according to a new report from Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in Higher Education (TASO).  

The report, based partly on research from the University of Surrey, highlights the need for higher education providers to design sandwich courses, promotional strategies and support structures (including financial, academic and social) that are tailored to the needs of WP students. Sandwich courses are typically four-year university programmes that involve a work placement.  

The report also recommends that universities make better use of their institutional data to understand the student journey from education into the labour market. 

The Surrey research team was led by Professor Rachel Brooks (Sociology) and included Dr Jill Timms (Sociology), Adeeba Ahmad (Institute of Education) and Frances Gow (Head of Employability and Careers).  

Professor Brooks said: 

"This was a fascinating research project to lead. Given what we know about the positive impact of sandwich courses on employment outcomes as well as academic study, we hope that our recommendations will be taken up by universities across England to ensure that all students – whatever their social background – have the opportunity to benefit from such courses." 

TASO tasked the University of Surrey to focus their research on WP students who intended to apply for and complete a sandwich course. Nottingham Trent University, who are co-leads on the report, focused on converting a student's intention to successful completion of a sandwich course. 

Each research team used their findings to develop and test a Theory of Change to help the higher education sector better support WP students in their areas.  

The University of Surrey interviewed staff from 10 English universities and conducted interviews with students from four of these institutions. Researchers from Surrey found:  

  • Some universities believed that WP students were less represented in sandwich courses but could not produce data to back this up. 

  • Both staff and students identified several factors that influence a student's ability to apply to and complete a sandwich course.  

  • A perceived lack of support from providers and challenges associated with travelling considerable distances for a work placement was highlighted as a key barrier. 

  • A number of activities were highlighted to remove barriers for WP students, including budgeting meetings to ensure they would be able to cope financially on the course. 

  • An agreement among staff and students that sandwich courses had a positive influence on employment outcomes for students.  

Dr Jill Timms, part of the research team from the University of Surrey, said: 

"Developing the Theory of Change was particularly important for this project, which every higher education provider can adapt to their own circumstances to improve practice and outcomes.” 

"As a sociologist of work, I see these recommendations as vital for benefiting not only students and universities but, importantly, employers too." 


Notes to editors 

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