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HEFCE closed at the end of March 2018. The information on this website is historical and is no longer maintained.

Many of HEFCE's functions will be continued by the Office for Students, the new regulator of higher education in England, and Research England, the new council within UK Research and Innovation.

The HEFCE domain - - will continue to function until September 2018. At this point we will close the site entirely and all its information will only be available from the National Web Archive.


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HEFCE’s support for widening participation to higher education has been long-standing and was first delivered through project-based funding in the mid-to-late 1990s, and then through sustained sector-wide strategic allocations for the last 15 years. The SO allocation (known as the WP allocation before 2013-14), first introduced in 1999-2000, was greatly enhanced through the inclusion of a funding stream to improve retention in 2003-04, and grew steadily over the next decade to reach its present level as summarised below:

  • WP allocation for widening access for people from disadvantaged backgrounds was introduced in 1999-00, with a total of £19,874,614 distributed to institutions rising to a total of £82,411,550 for 2014-15
  • Widening access and improving provision for disabled students funding was introduced in 2000-01 as an element of the WP allocation, with a total of £7,015,514 distributed to institutions rising to a total of £15,299,717 for 2014-15
  • Improving retention funding was introduced in 2003-04 as an element of the WP allocation, with a total of £218,185,539 distributed to institutions rising to a total of £274,952,199 for 2014-15

Since the introduction of HEFCE funding for widening participation, substantial progress has been made to widen access to HE, with participation rates for those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds (as measured by household income) rising from 18 per cent in the late 1990s to 30 per cent in 2011-12.

Significant progress has also been made in reducing the number of students who withdraw early from higher education. Degree non-completion rates improved from 14 per cent in 2002-03 to 10 per cent in 2012-13.

However, significant challenges remain to ensuring that all students with the potential to benefit have the opportunity to access HE and achieve successful outcomes. Our ongoing priorities are therefore to:

  • continue to close the gap in participation rates between the most and least advantaged
  • address unexplained differences in degree outcomes for students from different groups
  • address unexplained differences in employment/further study outcomes for students from different groups
  • continue to invest in provision and support for disabled students.

We are currently using the evidence gathered through an extensive programme of research and analysis undertaken over the past year to inform the development and shape of our funding and support. Crucial to this will be the development of a framework through which we and the sector are able to obtain more robust evidence of what works most effectively to support students across the lifecycle and enable them to achieve successful outcomes. The evidence we have gathered is also informing a review of the SO allocation from which we will design a more dynamic and targeted approach to supporting widening access, improving student success and supporting progression to employment or further study.


  1. Outcomes of Student Opportunity allocation and National Scholarship Programme monitoring for 2013-14’ (HEFCE 2015/09) is available on the HEFCE website. HEFCE and the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) carried out joint monitoring of institutions’ widening participation (WP) activity expenditure in 2013-14. HEFCE also requires institutions to provide an end-of-year report on the National Scholarship Programme.
  2. Overall sector investment in widening participation activity (not including student financial support) increased in 2013-14 to £802.6 million, up from £743.0 million in 2012-13. Institutions demonstrated that the HEFCE SO allocation is the single largest source of funding for investment in institutions’ strategic work across the student lifecycle.
  3. OFFA published its access agreements monitoring outcomes in early June 2015, ‘Outcomes of access agreement monitoring for 2013-14’ (June 2015/04). OFFA reported that in 2013-14 total investment in widening participation through access agreements, including both activity and financial support, was £628 million. Of this figure, £192.7 million is OFFA-countable funding, which contributes to the total sector expenditure in widening participation activity of £802.6 million.   
  4. Overall, the sector delivered NSP awards over and above the minimum numbers required: 59,198 students from the 2013-14 cohort received an NSP award in 2013-14 (equating to a full-time equivalent of 55,793.70). This is 25,963 more than the minimum required number of students (33,235). A total of £192.1 million was allocated to students through the programme, of which £179.2 million was delivered to the 2013-14 entry cohort and £12.9 million to the 2012-13 cohort, who were in their second year of study.
  5. The 2011-12 participation rate is based on 2011-12 and 2012-13 data because each cohort’s young participation rate requires two years of HE entrant data, to include those that enter at age 18 or 19.  We will shortly calculate the 2012-13 rate with the most recent available data.
  6. The 2002-03 and 2012-13 degree non-completion figures are available for the particular year. The latest retention figures are based on the 2012-13 entrant cohort, as calculated rates required information on the following academic year (2013-14). Information on 2013-14 entrants will therefore be available in Spring 2016 after the 2014-15 academic year has ended.