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Summary

HEFCE commissioned CFE consultants and Edge Hill University to conduct research on the way in which HEFCE’s widening participation (WP) funding is deployed within institutions. The research also covered institutional perceptions of the impact the funding has had on WP outcomes.

This research was commissioned to provide evidence for the national strategy for access and student success which HEFCE and the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) are jointly developing.

The research involved a survey of institutions in receipt of at least £50,000 in HEFCE WP funding, and interviews with staff in a cross-section of institutions.

The report concludes that:

  1. There is a widespread perception among institutions that progress has been made in access, retention, and disability provision. There is widespread agreement that the HEFCE funding has had a significant impact upon WP activity and enhanced outcomes in all three areas.
  2. There is evidence that the introduction of the HEFCE WP funding has helped to formalise and integrate WP work within institutions, leading to a shift in organisational culture and attitudes.
  3. Systematically tracking and evaluating the impact of WP interventions presents a number of challenges for institutions, especially where activities have been integrated into the mainstream and mechanisms have not been put in place to account for the way in which streams of funding are spent.
  4. The need to enhance evaluative activity is recognised by a growing number of institutions, and most institutions would value further guidance in this area.

The research findings will inform the development of the national strategy for access and student success. Continuing to improve the evidence base for ‘what works’ in WP and better targeting of funding will be a focus of the strategy.