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Executive summary


1.   This report provides the first national analysis of the Aimhigher Associates scheme and specifically the background characteristics of those who participated, either as learners or as Associates (mentors). The analysis covers activity during the 2009-10 academic year, the first year the scheme was launched nationally.

2.   Understanding learners' characteristics allows assessment of the scheme's success at targeting the young people for whom it was designed: those from backgrounds under-represented in higher education. Understanding Associates' characteristics provides insight into the type of higher education (HE) students who were most likely to become Associates and the kind of HE experience they had.

3.   The Aimhigher Associates scheme was delivered as part of the main Aimhigher programme. It supported the aims of the main Aimhigher programme, which were to help ensure that young people from widening participation backgrounds had the opportunity to progress to the full range of available higher education. The Associates scheme began with a pilot year in the academic year 2008-09, and was launched throughout England in the following two years.

4.   The scheme employed undergraduates as 'Associates' who delivered a sustained programme of mentoring in schools, colleges and academies to small groups of pupils and one-to-one. They offered information about higher education, and aimed to encourage and increase the motivation of pupils to realise their full educational potential.

Key points

5.   During 2009-10 just under 16,000 pupils from more than 750 schools, academies and colleges took part in the Aimhigher Associates scheme, and 3,400 HE students from over 120 higher education institutions (HEIs) participated as Associates. That is, roughly one in every 150 13 to 18 year-olds in English schools, and one in every 650 HE students at publicly funded English HEIs, were involved. There were 140,000 exchanges between learners and Associates.

6.   In 2009-10 the total expenditure in the scheme was £6.66 million, which gives an average cost of £420 per learner, and £50 for every exchange each learner had with an Associate. The average payment made to Associates was around £700.

7.   The scheme succeeded in engaging pupils for whom it was intended: those from groups or with backgrounds that are under-represented in HE. Pupils eligible free school meals (FSM), looked after by a local authority, attending schools with high proportions of pupils eligible for FSM or living in the most deprived areas were more likely to participate than their more advantaged counterparts.

8.   The scheme focused on pupils with mid to high levels of prior academic attainment measured at Key Stage 3. Among pupils in Year 11, those who were disadvantaged and with low attainment were only slightly more likely to participate than advantaged pupils with similarly low attainment. But disadvantaged pupils with average to high attainment were between five and 12 times more likely to participate than advantaged pupils with equivalent attainment.

9.   There were some groups that engaged less than the scheme may have hoped. For example, boys were less likely to participate than girls, and pupils with learning difficulties and disabilities were less likely to participate than those without. However, these patterns vary with prior attainment, and the Associates scheme shows greater equality in participation across these groups than does the Aimhigher summer school programme.

10.   The scheme also succeeded in encouraging students across a diverse range of HE provision to become Associates. Most Associates were studying full-time on first degree courses in either their second or third year, but some were postgraduate students, part-time students, or from overseas.

11.   Associates did not typically have the same kinds of disadvantaged backgrounds as the learners they helped: there were more Associates from relatively more advantaged backgrounds. However students from disadvantaged backgrounds were more likely to become Associates.

Action required

12.   No action is required.

Date: 1 December 2011

Ref: HEFCE 2011/35

To: Heads of HEFCE-funded further education colleges, Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions, Heads of universities in Northern Ireland
Chairs and managers of area Aimhigher partnerships

Of interest to those
responsible for:

Widening access and participation in higher education, including staff in higher and further education institutions, schools and local authorities