In its ninth annual publication, U-Multirank showcases how universities deal with issues of social inequality in access to higher education and with enrolment of underrepresented groups of students. There are major achievements as well as major differences in attracting underrepresented students with non-academic family background (‘first generation students’). Younger universities with a strong focus on undergraduate education attract more first-generation students than traditional research universities. Some universities of applied sciences, have more than 80% of these students within their student population. As far as fields of study are concerned, high percentages of those students were found in the fields of social work (65 %), and nursing (49%), Chemistry (45%) and Mathematics (43%), while they count for less than 30% in the health fields of medicine, dentistry and pharmacy. There are major differences between national systems as well: countries with high degrees of growth in student numbers over the last decades show higher access numbers of underrepresented groups than other countries. Among the countries with the highest share of first-generation students are Portugal (62%) and Italy (62%).
Social inequality in access to higher education remains a challenge and for a long time has been a major issue in the education policy agenda of many countries, including the European Union. ‘Looking at the performance of universities, good teaching quality and research output is of course crucial, but we can’t neglect universities’ contribution to social goals’, says Professor Frank Ziegele, U-Multirank co-project leader. ‘That’s why for the first time U-Multirank included successes in widening access to higher education for underrepresented groups in its data’. The U-Multirank results make clear, that major contributions to open access for underrepresented groups come from universities and disciplines that are not characterised by long traditions in academic research performance.
‘Widening access for underrepresented groups is a complex issue’, says Professor Frans van Vught, U-Multirank co-project leader. ‘Our analyses suggest that several factors may explain the substantial differences between countries, institutional profiles and fields. National higher access policies but also institutional portfolio’s of study programmes appear to be relevant. ‘
Furthermore, risk aversion behaviour by non-traditionl students may also very well explain the choice for specific institutions and fields of study. The combination of these factors seem to lead to the differences that U-Multirank has now made visible. U-Multirank expects similar patterns to exist in other categories of underrepresented students. This is why we have started to collect data on gender ratios, mature students, and students with disabilities as well.
Universities take an active role in approaching students with non-academic family backgrounds through ‘outreach programmes’. 530 higher education institutions worldwide provided information to U-Multirank about these programmes. The most common outreach programmes for underrepresented groups are: targeted guidance and counselling (mentioned by 70% of institutions), cooperation with secondary schools (63%), special media and recruitment campaigns (53%), and partnerships with local and regional communities (50%). The target groups of the programmes are not only students from a low socio-economic background, but also students with disabilities, female pupils/students (often in combination with access to STEM programmes), asylum seekers, migrant students, and mature students. At the same time, 18% of all institutions said that they do not offer any outreach programmes. This implies that institutions can step up their efforts, both in developing outreach activities as well as in collecting and providing information on underrepresented groups and outreach activities in place.
These results are based on 2022 U-Multirank data, both from a survey among participating institutions and the U-Multirank student survey, covering 62,000 students from 314 institutions.
U-Multirank does not only provide information on social inclusion and outreach, but offers a broad range of information on more than 30 indicators across five dimensions of performance: teaching and learning, research, knowledge transfer, international orientation and regional engagement.
Notes for editors
For journalists and all users alike, U-Multirank offers tailor-made rankings and analyses, including example country reports focusing on university performance in a specific country. Since its first publication in 2014, U-Multirank has almost triupled the number of universities (higher education institutions) from 850 to 2,202 and increased the coverage of countries from 74 to 96, including 5,574 faculties and 11,605 study programmes across 30 subject areas.
U-Multirank is an alternative approach to comparing universities and offers a solution to the flaws of traditional league tables. Its multi-dimensional approach compares the performance of universities across a range of different activities grading each of them from ‘A’ (very good) to ‘E’ (weak). It allows users to identify a university’s strengths and weaknesses, on the aspects that most interest them. The data included in U-Multirank are drawn from a number of sources, providing users with a comprehensive set of information: data supplied by institutions; and drawn from international bibliometric and patent databases; from national databases; and from surveys of more than 100,000 students at participating universities.
U-Multirank originated at a conference of the European Commission during the French presidency in 2008. Since 2017 it is funded by the Bertelsmann Foundation, the European Union’s Erasmus+ Programme and Santander Group. U-Multirank is developed and implemented by an independent consortium led by the Centre for Higher Education (CHE) in Germany. The Center for Higher Education Policy Studies (CHEPS) at the University of Twente and the Centre for Science and Technology Studies (CWTS) from Leiden University, both in the Netherlands, as well as Fundación Conocimiento y Desarrollo (FCYD) in Spain are partners in the project. The consortium is headed by professors Frans van Vught (CHEPS) and Frank Ziegele (CHE).