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In January 2009 PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) was commissioned to undertake an independent evaluation of the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) in order to ascertain how well the organisation is meeting its aims and objectives and whether the current funding model is appropriate for the sector. The evaluation was used to inform our decision to continue funding the ECU to further enhance the support provided to the higher education sector.

The key finding of the review is that the ECU is highly regarded; 81 per cent of stakeholders indicated that the Unit had raised the profile of equality and diversity in the sector. In implementing its strategic plan the ECU had created a positive relationship with the sector and built a strong reputation. The Unit was particularly recognised for the high level of complex thinking it did on behalf of the sector on tensions between various strands of legislation (for example, religion and belief, and sexual orientation) and producing relevant, high-quality and timely guidance.

The report makes a number of recommendations to the ECU to develop a new three-year strategy taking into account the recommendations from the review with regards to: mainstreaming; positioning; future needs of the sector; outcome-based key performance indicators; and to continue close working partnerships with sector bodies and representative groups.

In September 2009, HEFCE agreed that the ECU should be funded for a further five years on the existing model and that a review of its progress in mainstreaming equality and diversity work, and diversifying its income within the sector, should be undertaken after three years in 2013.