Driving improvement to help disadvantaged young people access higher education

Our Widening and Participation Research Unit (WPREU) is playing a key role in an Office for Students (OfS) funded project to help universities and colleges around the country generate stronger evidence of the impact of their work to reach out to disadvantaged young people.

The team – a partnership between our own Widening Participation Research and Evaluation Unit (WPREU) and researchers at the University of Exeter, Sheffield Hallam University, the University of Oxford and the Brightside Trust – will support partnerships of universities, colleges and other local organisations funded by the OfS through the National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP) to more effectively evaluate their efforts.

The team will also draw on the skills and experience of the Centre for Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in Higher Education (TASO), an independent ‘what works’ centre funded by the OfS.

Dr Julian Crockford, Widening Participation Research and Evaluation Unit Manager, said: “The WPREU team is delighted to be working on this important project with colleagues from Exeter, Sheffield Hallam and Oxford universities and the Brightside charity. Although the sector has greatly strengthened its widening participation evaluation practice in recent years, we still have some way to go. This project represents an important and timely opportunity to achieve a step change in developing and enhancing the evaluation of widening participation activities and to producing better and more robust evidence about ‘what works’.

This project represents an important and timely opportunity to achieve a step change in developing and enhancing the evaluation of widening participation activities and to producing better and more robust evidence about ‘what works’.

Dr Julian Crockford, Widening Participation Research and Evaluation Unit Manager

“We have completed the first stage of the project, assessing the evaluation strategies for each of the NCOP consortia. This process has proved invaluable in helping us to understand the many strengths (and occasional weaknesses) of current evaluation activity. It has also illuminated many examples of best practice and we look forward to drawing on this to strengthen our evaluation work at the University , but also to sharing it more widely across the sector. We are particularly looking forward to the next stage of the project, working with project colleagues and NCOP partners to build additional evaluation capability across sector, to ensure that this best practice is spread as widely as possible.”

Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation at the OfS, said: “NCOP partnerships are helping young people in some of the most disadvantaged parts of the country to benefit from the life changing experience of higher education. Good evaluation is crucial for maximising the impact of this work and making the best use of public funds.

“We have high expectations of evaluation practice, so we are actively working to support the sector to meet the challenges of effectively evaluating outreach.

“This work will support NCOP partnerships in generating strong evidence to drive sector-wide improvement in access to higher education and provide a legacy of outreach evaluation resources.”

With the assessment phase complete, WPREU will be supporting and delivering capability building resources from September. The work offers insight into best practice from across the sector - work that can be brought back to support and develop our own sector-leading work on widening participation.