Every person who wants to go to university and/or have a professional career deserves to be treated in the same way as other person with the same qualifications.  Admissions and recruitment processes should have no bias based on family background, social class, gender or ethnic origin. This is fair access, something close to our hearts at Total Professions.

Universities, professional bodies and charitable trusts have launched a number of innovative projects to ensure fair access, and you can read about some of them here. These initiatives are the response to the 2009 Government report Unleashing Aspiration [pdf] which looked at the barriers to fair access and made a number of key recommendations.

These recommendations include:  

  • giving school students more opportunities to gain insights into professional life
  • providing more flexible and affordable routes into university and higher education
  • establishing a fair and transparent system for internships
  • promoting fair recruitment and employment standards 

Find out more about the fair access initiatives that professional bodies have implemented.

If you want sector-specific information on alternative routes into professions, which help people from all backgrounds get into professional careers, go to our Career Sectors.

We have sections aimed at different audiences, as well as relevant resources:

Also check out our Resources page for this section, which links to organisations that are working to improve access to the professions, as well as organisations representing specific strands of diversity, such as age, gender and socio-economic background. 

Fair access for students

Universities and colleges of higher education agree that they need to do more to encourage applications from students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Research has shown that there is not equality when it comes to which schools’ students go to which universities, for example, four schools and one college sent more students to Oxford and Cambridge than the 2,000 other schools and colleges in the UK combined. Every year, universities and colleges must publish a ‘fair access agreement’ with the Office for Fair Access (OFFA). These agreements set out targets and initiatives for recruiting students who, for example:

  • have parents who did not have higher education
  • have disabilities (check out some specific careers advice)
  • are from lower income families
  • have been in care
  • are from ethnic minority groups
  • have had their studies interrupted by health or family problems

University fair access schemes - sometimes called ‘widening participation’ or ‘outreach’ schemes - might include:

  • foundation courses
  • summer schools
  • taster days
  • school visits from student ‘ambassadors’
  • online mentoring 
  • help with completing applications

Talk to your parents, your teachers and your careers adviser. Look at the website for your chosen university or college to see which of these activities they are offering. 

Here are three examples of university fair access schemes: 

Take a look at the section on work experience and internships below, and at some of the organisations that, like Total Professions, are working to improve fair access. We also list some of the support given to specific sectors, so if you know which area you would like to work in, have a look at the listings in the careers advisers section below. Further sector specific information is available in our career sector pages.

Fair access: parents

How can you encourage your daughter or son to aspire to a professional career?

You can help them to understand who they are and to explore careers that match their abilities and interests. Understanding what jobs are available and how you get into them enables you to give relevant and factual advice. Support their studies and their choices.

Professional bodies, schools, colleges and universities and other organisations are all working to ensure that people from under-represented groups can access successful careers. Have a look through the different sections on this page to get an idea of the support available, as well as our career sectors which provide sector-specific advice on different routes to a professional career.

Fair access: careers advisers

Here are just some of the initiatives that professional bodies and other organisations have developed to draw talented people from a wider range of backgrounds into their professions. Take a look at other fair access initiatives from the professional bodies here, or browse our Profession Finder to go direct to them.

Accountancy - More flexible routes into accountancy include higher apprenticeship programmes in professional services, focusing on tax, audit and consultancy management. 

Architecture - The Royal Institute of British Architects is encouraging more members to become ‘ambassadors’ and visit inner-city, lower income schools to discuss and teach architectural design. They are working with The Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust to help young people aged 13-24 develop their skills and to apply to university. So far nine students have completed their seven years to become fully fledged architects - two with their own practice.

Creative - The sector skills council for Creative and Cultural Skills is encouraging employers to sign up to the Fair Access Principle, which provides guidelines on volunteering, work experience placements and internships.

Engineering - The professional bodies are working together to meet the challenge of fair access. The booklet 'Aspiration & Opportunity: fair access to the engineering profession' [pdf 3231kb] is full of inspirational case studies.

The Engineering Development Trust (EDT) offers work-related learning schemes in which 11-21-year-olds can enhance their technical, personal and employability skills through industry-led projects, industrial placements and specialised courses. Schemes include First Edition, a programme of activity days for under-represented groups such as girls, ethnic minorities, or the first in family to consider higher education).

Law The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) route into law is extremely flexible, with multiple entry levels via GCSEs, A-levels, graduate-entry level and LPC-entry level.

The Law Society's Diversity Access Scheme supports promising entrants to the legal profession who face exceptional obstacles to qualification.

Pathways to Law is a joint initiative between the Sutton Trust and The Legal Education Foundation to inspire and support academically able students in year 12 and 13 from non-privileged backgrounds interested in a career in law. 

The Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust has teamed up with a leading law firm to create a scholarship scheme. Black men from low-income households are under-represented in large commercial law firms and this scholarship is a step towards redressing the balance.

Property - Pathways to Property is an initiative at the University of Reading to widen access into the property profession. It offers academically able students from non-traditional backgrounds a flavour of careers in property and planning, through school visits, summer schools and taster days.

Science - see EDT, above.

Veterinary science - The VETNET Lifelong Learning Network was established to increase opportunities for vocational learners to progress into veterinary and animal related higher education. The booklet 'Veterinary Science for all Walks of Life' [pdf, 1783kb] helps to debunk some of the myths about entry into the veterinary profession. 

Charitable trusts working to encourage fair access

A number of organisations are working to show disadvantaged people the range of opportunities open to them; and to inspire them to achieve their ambitions. 

Sutton Trust is an influential and active charity that has helped to shape government policy on fair access. Its activities include summer schools for which give bright year 12 students from non-privileged homes a taste of life at a leading university. 

IntoUniversity runs local centres in London, Nottingham and Bristol (with more planned) supporting young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to attain either a university place or another ambition. In the last academic year more than 9,000 young people aged 7-18 took part, and of the year 13 students, 77% progressed to higher education.

Brightside Trust  is a charity that helps young people ‘access the education and career pathways they might not have believed were available to them’. Brightside matches school pupils with students further up the career ladder who offer online mentoring and support. Initiatives include Bright Links, where e-mentors talk to pupils/students about a variety of subjects, and Bright Journals, where medicine undergraduates mentor disadvantaged pupils who are interested in medical careers. 

The National Black Boys Can Association provides young black men with educational opportunities, life skills, and the self-esteem, confidence and determination to succeed. It also raises employers’ awareness of the barriers that many black and minority ethnic people face when they are applying for jobs. 

Career Academies UK help raise young people’s aspirations and bridge the gap between education and work by giving them access to real experience of the world of work. A structured programme of paid internships, mentoring by employer volunteers, motivational lectures and workshops gives 16-19-year-olds the work experience and skills they need to perform more effectively in the wider world. 

  • Further organisations are listed in our Resources section.

Work experience and internships

The National Council for Work Experience (NCWE) promotes, supports and develops quality work experience for the benefit of students, organisations and the economy.

Research undertaken by NCWE shows that increasingly employers see offering work experience as an effective way of recruiting graduates, since both have a chance to see what each other have to offer. This trend is likely to continue and demonstrates the growing importance of getting some form of work experience before leaving university. Students also benefit by gaining an understanding of what employers are looking for when they come to recruit graduates and can therefore make more informed career choices.

More information about work placements and internships can be found at our pages for uni students.