Covid’s impact on young people’s post-18 plans and access to higher education outreach


7th September 2021

Our new research report, conducted in collaboration with Aspire to HE examines the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on young people’s post-18 plans and access to higher education outreach. You can read the full report here and Billy’s accompanying feature in Times Higher Education here.

Aspire to HE, the UniConnect partnership at the University of Wolverhampton, deliver widening participation activities to help ensure all young people in the Black Country and Telford and Wrekin can make informed decisions about their post-18 futures. Aspire have adapted their delivery throughout the pandemic but have been less able to reach target pupils during school closures. They were therefore keen to understand the impact of the pandemic in order to better address young people’s needs in their future delivery.

Our research finds that the pandemic has disrupted Aspire to HE’s target pupils’ access to information about HE and affected their attitudes, future plans and aspirations, in the following ways:

  • A lack of access to IAG during the pandemic means pupils are less informed about their options than previous cohorts
  • Young people are generally more uncertain and less positive about their futures and the HE options available to them, compared to before the pandemic.
  • Young people in years 10-12 are aware of the context of the labour market and the impact of the pandemic on HE students’ experiences and graduate opportunities, leading to more negative attitudes towards HE.
  • Young people have concerns about the feasibility and desirability of the post-18 options available to them, with some adjusting their aspirations and plans as a result.
  • The pandemic also affected young people’s needs in other ways, including a negative impact on their mental health and an increase in social concerns regarding HE.

We also investigated young people’s experiences of and attitudes towards online outreach, finding numerous barriers to engagement, including:

  • Digital poverty
  • Poor home learning environments
  • Reduced opportunity for active participation
  • Accessibility issues with online resources

However, there were also benefits to virtual delivery, particularly around flexibility and cost, which could support Aspire to HE’s outreach offer in the future.

Young people were clear about the type of support they wanted and the information it should cover. Therefore, Aspire to HE plans to prioritise the following topics and activities in the new academic year and other providers should look to do the same:

    • Pastoral support and advice on moving away
    • Financial support
    • Curricular ties
    • Understanding a range of universities
    • Navigating processes
    • Interaction with people that have experienced different routes
    • Trips to potential post-18 destinations
    • Connecting post-18 destinations to careers
    • Alternatives routes

The report provides crucial insights about young people’s experiences, concerns and future plans, and should shape how widening participation providers including Aspire to HE, schools, colleges, universities and other outreach organisations seek to support young people in the next academic year.

Read the full report here

Read ‘Targeted advice and guidance is crucial for widening participation’ (Billy Huband-Thompson, Times Higher Education) here