Responding to the report, HEFCE’s Chief Executive, Professor Madeleine Atkins, said:
‘Universities and colleges are undertaking vitally important work to maximise student success. But we need to improve our understanding of what works and what does not, to ensure that HEFCE and sector funding has the greatest possible impact.
‘Much of the focus to date has been on expenditure and on activity, but we need a stronger emphasis on outcomes. In constrained financial times, it is vital to demonstrate that this considerable investment is being used as effectively as possible.
‘In our fast-moving environment, universities and colleges are rightly innovating in the way they deliver their widening participation activity with schools, employers, and other partners. We need to keep abreast of these developments, evaluate their effectiveness alongside the more conventional approaches, and understand how best to invest in and support our sector in the future.’
To date, HEFCE’s Student Opportunity funding accounts for half of sector expenditure on widening participation activity [Note 2]. It plays a crucial role in helping institutions widen access, support students with disabilities, improve retention and maximise student success, including progress into graduate employment and postgraduate study [Note 3].
The report emphasises that there is more to do. HEFCE is already undertaking the following research to ascertain how best students can be supported to succeed in and beyond higher education:
- We are developing a set of socio-economic indicators to measure the value of different widening participation interventions to individual students, the economy, and society.
- We are exploring the impact of new forms of engagement between universities and schools, for example in relation to university technical colleges and academies.
- Building on HEFCE’s recent report on differential degree outcomes, we are undertaking further work into why this is happening and how we can work with the higher education sector to address it [Note 4].
- Following the Government’s announcement of changes to the Disabled Students’ Allowance from 2015-16, HEFCE is commissioning research into the provision of support for disabled students in higher education.
This work will inform our advice to Government on future funding models for widening participation. We also hope that it will stimulate debate and improve practice across higher education.
HEFCE is also providing the following new funding in the next two years to support student progression:
- We will allocate £22 million across academic years 2014-15 and 2015-16 to support networks for collaborative outreach. The primary aim of this funding is to ensure that all state-funded secondary schools and colleges understand how they can access outreach activity and to simplify the way in which they can do so.
- We are allocating £3 million to support the national roll-out of the Higher Education Access Tracker (HEAT) tool. HEAT enables longitudinal tracking of school learners into and through higher education and will significantly improve the sector's ability to monitor and evaluate the impact of the activities they deliver to widen participation and ensure student success.
- We are providing £25 million to support under-represented students to progress to taught postgraduate education through the Postgraduate Support Scheme 2014-15, on the basis of which we expect to invest a further £50 million in 2015-16. [Note 3].
- HEFCE funding to support widening participation activity (not including networks for collaborative outreach or HEAT) in 2014-15 will be £357 million.
- According to the latest joint HEFCE/OFFA monitoring report (2012-13), overall investment by universities and colleges in widening participation activity (not including student financial support) increased to £743 million, up from £682 million in 2011-12 and £691 million in 2010-11.
- 'In 2012-13 HEFCE funding to support widening participation activity amounted to £365 million, made up of £127 million for widening access, £13 million for students with disabilities and £225 million for improving retention and student success. Just under half of the total sector investment in widening participation activity (£743 million) was therefore supported by HEFCE funding in 2012-13, with the remainder coming from higher fee income under OFFA-approved access agreements and other funding sources.
- ‘New HEFCE analysis shows significant link between factors such as ethnicity, gender and school type on achievement in higher education’ was published in March.
- The Postgraduate Support Scheme 2015-16 was launched in July 2013, and funded institutions were announced in December.