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Action Research Fund to support Student Access and Success

A joint fund for academics, professional services staff, and students from The Centre for Social Mobility


Despite concerted efforts by higher education providers, Government, and the regulator, inequalities within higher education persist at all points of the student lifecycle. Perpetual differences between groups in terms of entry into higher education, degree outcomes and employment show that more needs to be done to ensure that everyone can achieve their potential and enjoy the benefits of higher education, regardless of their background.

The Centre for Social Mobility piloted a small grants scheme across the academic year 2020/21 awarding £5000 to five project teams, each tasked with producing action research that cultivated pedagogic innovation. Three projects focused on inclusive / decolonising the curricula including the development of a ‘decolonisation toolkit’ for the University of Exeter. The other two projects focused on key transition points in the student journey, with one creating a student ‘survival guide’ for first year students and another using Lego workshops to visualise graduate transitions into employment. The small grants scheme is back for a second year with the intention of facilitating research to underpin innovative education practices of the future.

What we are looking for:

The Centre for Social Mobility is seeking to fund research projects that trial and evaluate innovative educational interventions aimed at reducing inequalities and disadvantages in higher education across the student lifecycle. In particular we are looking for projects that align with the strategic aims of the University’s Access and Participation Plan as specified in the table below. Projects will be funded up to £5000 to run throughout the academic year 2021/2022. The funding is open to students, professional services staff and academic staff.


Strategic aim:

Relevant objective:

We are interested in projects that seek to:

Improve Access to University of Exeter

Support the attainment of school pupils at GCSE and Level 3 and work within our region

Work within our region and with organisations, third sector and other providers to build capacity, identify and address barriers


Develop specific pupil and family support e.g. skills development, tools, and information



Widen and diversify our applicant pool across key student groups and encourage, support, and prepare prospective students to enter HE Better support the recruitment, preparation, and transition of students with Access and BTEC qualifications, Mature students, and care leavers

Address the causes of observable gaps in success and progression for key groups

Minimise the observed gaps in continuation

Continue to improve experience of transition, induction, and year 1 especially around skills acquisition, information, and advice


Specific interventions for key groups including mature students, care leavers, students with BTECs, estranged students, carers, and students with disabilities


Minimise the observed gaps in attainment and achievement of graduate outcomes

Innovations across curriculum, teaching, and educational support, including inclusive teaching methods, personal tutoring, supporting a diverse learning community


Working towards a whole institution approach to wellbeing and building resilience across impairment types


Continuing to innovate and build on success of peer programmes


Enable equitable opportunities for progression, employability, and international experience especially for groups currently under-represented



While there are no set criteria for project selection, the steering group are particularly interested in projects that:

  • Are scalable and could change/ contribute /add to University of Exeter practices.
  • Propose innovative yet practical solutions
  • Place due consideration to the care and welfare of participants
  • Show a clear rationale and link to the literature
  • Use qualitative methods as part of the evaluation (if appropriate) to understand the thoughts, feelings, and insights of participants in depth.
  • Aims to support specific disadvantaged or under-represented groups.

What applicants are getting:

  • Funding for directly incurred costs such as student and research support, administrative and IT support, equipment and web-support, evaluation skills and other items of direct cost necessary for your research.
  • A designated mentor or contact person as well as access to other related activities such webinars, networking events and dissemination support.

We do not offer replacement for academic salaries or direct buy-out for University of Exeter staff.

How to apply

Applications can be made by completing the application form. Applications will close on Thursday 16 September 2021.

If you have any queries about the grant scheme, please email Sam Braide, Widening Participation Research and Evaluation Officer.