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This report is the final output of one of two related projects that aim to develop an evaluation framework to better demonstrate the impact of funding to widen participation in higher education.

We commissioned this report by CFE Research, working in collaboration with economists from the London School of Economics and the University of Birmingham, to investigate the feasibility of collecting additional data from institutions to evidence the impact of widening participation (WP) spending. It involved the development of a pilot data return to gather more detailed information to help understand the relationship between the HEFCE funding and the resulting activities, outputs and outcomes.

The report finds that current WP monitoring and research is primarily focused on input measures such as the type of activities institutions undertake and their aggregate costs. Little has been done at a national level to assign robust metrics that measure impact and outcomes for individuals, social or economic returns or value for money. The lack of evidence of impact is an issue for government, funding councils and institutions and there is an international call for rigorous and consistent evaluation of WP interventions in order to establish programme effectiveness.

The sister project describes the development of an evaluation framework for WP and reports the results of consultations with higher education institutions. Using insights from approaches taken in other sectors, it recommends what can be done now and in the future to produce stronger evidence.