We are joined by the universities of Cardiff, Oxford, Reading and Southampton to form UNet (the Universities Network) to help meet the challenges that leading universities face in widening access and participation.

Committed to promoting fair access to university for all social groups, UNet institutions believe that a diverse student population enhances the university experience. Through collaboration and joint activities, the aim is to provide talented young people with the skills they need to make a competitive application to a selective university.

UNet will launch at Bath on Friday 18 July, with a ‘Choices’ conference for 120 state school students, giving them the opportunity to find out about higher education and study opportunities at all five of the UNet universities.

The event will be attended by the Director of Fair Access to Higher Education, Professor Les Ebdon, who said: "Evidence shows that some of the work universities do to raise aspirations and attainment is best delivered collaboratively, and I welcome the forming and strengthening of partnerships where they are practical. I am, therefore, very pleased to see that this group of universities has come together to form UNet, in order to provide information and support to prospective students from disadvantaged backgrounds."

At the Choices conference students will have the opportunity to meet staff, students and graduates from all five universities; attend a Higher Education Fair; participate in workshops to help them choose the right course; take part in UCAS personal statement sessions; find out about student budgeting; and explore career opportunities with graduates.

Professor Bernie Morley Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Learning & Teaching) at Bath, the lead partner for UNet, said: “I am very pleased to welcome not only our ‘On Track to Bath’ students to the Choices conference but also post-16 students engaging with the excellent pre-entry programmes offered by our UNet partners.”

Annette Hayton, Head of Widening Participation at Bath, summed up the benefits of UNet: “UNet aims to widen access by providing students with a single point of contact where they can find in-depth information about the options available at leading universities in the area where they are most likely to study.”

Vicki Roylance, Senior Widening Access Officer at Cardiff University commented: "The process of choosing and applying to university can be daunting for any teenager. But students from under-represented groups - such as those on our 'Step up to University' programme who are often the first in their family to consider higher education - need additional support in order to make the right choice. Activities such as the 'Choices' conference increase their options within a supportive structure where they can choose the right course for them."

As well as helping prospective students to choose and apply to university, UNet institutions all offer intensive programmes of activity to enhance the post-16 curriculum and develop academic and study skills. Programmes such as On Track to Bath, Cardiff’s Step Up to University, Oxford’s UNIQ Summer Schools, the Reading Scholars Scheme, and Southampton’s Learn with US all provide opportunities for post-16 students to study with university staff and students.

Samina Khan, Deputy Director of Undergraduate Admissions & Outreach at the University of Oxford said: “We are making significant investments in outreach activities to ensure fair access for all students. We have found intensive programmes such as our UNIQ summer school very effective. Students not only experience university life but also complete a project with substantial academic content.”

Carey Singleton, Director, Student Recruitment and Outreach at the University of Reading, explained: “One can't underestimate the importance to these students of getting first-hand experience of university life and study - and finding out what it can lead to. Through programmes such as our intensive scheme ‘The Reading Scholars programme’ we are able to build confidence and break down perceptual barriers through integrating academic study with on campus experiences and e-mentoring from undergraduate buddies. Pulling all the UNet programmes closer together has got to be a win-win for the students involved.”

Richard Kennett, Director of UK Student Recruitment & Outreach at the University of Southampton added: "We launched our ‘Learn with US’ programme with the aim of providing additional study opportunities for talented students needing to improve their learning skills. The feedback from teachers, students and lecturers has been extremely positive.”