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Dear Vice-Chancellor or Principal

Board decisions regarding the NCOP and teaching funding for widening access, successful student outcomes and progression to postgraduate study

1. This letter announces decisions made by the HEFCE Board at its 14 September 2016 meeting relating to:

  1. The National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP), following the invitation to submit proposals for funding in ‘National collaborative outreach programme: Invitation to submit proposals for funding’ (HEFCE 2016/06).
  2. Recurrent teaching funding for 2017-18, following the consultation in ‘Funding to support teaching in higher education: Consultation on arrangements for supporting widening access and successful student outcomes, including progression to taught postgraduate study’ (HEFCE 2016/10) on arrangements for supporting widening access and successful student outcomes, including progression to taught postgraduate study and funding to support disabled students.

2. This letter summarises the decisions made as there are implications for funding in 2016-17 and 2017-18. We are reporting the decisions immediately to enable institutions to plan. Institutional recurrent funding will be announced as part of the normal grant announcement cycle during the first half of 2017. Awards relating to NCOP will be communicated directly to the lead institutions of successful consortia during September.

3. The NCOP is a four-year programme, which will run in calendar years from January 2017 to December 2020. It will support intensive outreach by consortia aimed at increasing participation in higher education (HE) in wards where HE participation rates are low overall and lower than expected given Key Stage 4 GCSE (and equivalent) attainment levels.

4. In addition to approving the recommendations of an expert panel (see Annex A) with regard to bids, the Board agreed an extension to the programme’s scope, aimed at increasing inclusivity. This will add 126 wards, resulting in coverage of 997 wards across the country. This is described in more detail in paras 10 to 17.

5. Alongside this, the Board considered proposals on aspects of teaching funding for 2017-18 in the light of responses to HEFCE 2016/10. It agreed changes to arrangements for supporting widening access and successful student outcomes, including progression to postgraduate study from 2017-18. In summary the changes will:

  • discontinue the formula-based widening access targeted allocation, and support investment in this area solely through the NCOP from 2017-18
  • provide a student premium from 2017-18 recognising full- and part-time students
  • provide a premium for disabled students from 2017-18 based on data from both the Disabled Student’s Allowance (DSA) and Higher Education Statistics Agency and Individualised Learner Record self-reporting
  • continue with the existing approach to supporting taught postgraduate study for 2017-18, but make changes from 2018-19.

6. A full report on the consultation outcomes will be published in winter 2016.

Summary of Board decisions

Supporting access through the National Collaborative Outreach Programme

7. HEFCE 2016/10 proposed that formula-based widening access funding should be discontinued from 2017-18, thereby focusing our investment in this area solely on the NCOP. Consultation responses were split on this proposal, though the weight of argument suggested support for the NCOP investment. On this basis, and taking into account the reductions to funding announced in the 2015 spending review, the Board accepted the proposal in the consultation.

8. The Board also accepted the recommendations of the expert panel relating to the submissions received from prospective NCOP consortia, in response to HEFCE 2016/06.

9. HEFCE staff will now engage with the lead higher education institutions of consortia to address conditions identified by the expert panel. We expect formal outcome letters to follow later in September.

Targeting additional areas

10. HEFCE developed the NCOP in response to the Government’s ambition to double the proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds in HE by 2020 from a 2009 baseline, and to increase by 20 per cent the number of young people from ethnic minority groups entering HE.

11. The model used to allocate NCOP funding is highly targeted and draws on HEFCE’s Gaps analysis. The methodology used to identify the Gaps wards for the original commission published in March uses both Key Stage 4 (KS4) attainment and ethnicity as factors in the analysis. This is because, given the same levels of attainment at KS4, ethnic minority students are more likely to progress into HE. Including ethnicity in the model thus ensured that areas were not overlooked where ethnic minority students were not progressing to HE at the same rate as others in their ethnic group with the same KS4 attainment levels.

12. Since we issued the commissioning guidance for the programme the Government has issued its Green Paper consultation, ‘Schools that work for everyone’. There has also been an increased focus within Government on the low achievement and HE progression rates of white, working-class boys.

13. With regard to the Green Paper consultation, the Board noted the importance of wide-ranging collaborative partnerships across HE, further education and schools to support the progression of students alongside the measures to improve attainment set out in the Green Paper.

14. With regard to the broadening of the Government’s focus, we have extended the scope to include those wards highlighted by an alternative Gaps analysis, using only KS4 attainment. We are therefore targeting wards which fall into either of the following categories:

  1. Participation of Local Areas (POLAR) quintile 1 (wards with low overall levels of HE participation) and original Gaps quintiles 1 and 2 (wards with lower than expected HE participation given KS4 attainment levels and ethnic mix in those wards).
  2. POLAR quintile 1 and alternative Gaps quintiles 1 and 2 (wards with lower than expected HE participation given KS4 attainment levels).

15. This results in the number of wards to be targeted by the programme increasing from 871 to 997, as a further 126 wards were identified by the KS4 attainment-only Gaps analysis. All of the wards identified in the original analysis are still included in the programme.

16. Funding for the four-year programme will remain at £60 million per calendar year for the first two years.

17. Funding has been recalculated for each consortium to take into account the new wards. Because allocations are modelled according to the estimated population in each ward, the new profile is different from the indicative allocations published in the NCOP guidance. As the funding is spread differentially over more wards and a larger population, some consortia receive a smaller allocation while gaining wards; others receive more funding and more wards; and others receive a lower allocation while their number of wards stays the same.

18. To accommodate the expansion, we will advise successful consortia that they may reduce the cohort size with which they work from the previously expected 33 per cent to 25 per cent.

19. We have alerted lead contacts for consortia to the change in the indicative funding allocation and any additions to ward allocations. Where consortia have additional wards, we have allocated these within the boundaries set out in their bids.

20. A condition of the award to consortia is that the lead institution provides an operating plan and financial profile. As well as including consortia responses to other funding conditions, recommendations and notes, we will expect these documents to incorporate any necessary changes to plans resulting from changes to the funding allocation or wards. So that consortia have time to discuss and agree any necessary changes to their plans, we have asked that operating plans, financial profiles and any supporting information be returned to us by Thursday 10 November 2016.

21. Following approval of the operating plans, we will make the first funding allocation to consortia against the funding profile provided from January 2017.

A premium to support successful student outcomes

22. The Board agreed to the consultation proposal that, from 2017-18, teaching funding to support student success should be focused on those institutions that recruit the highest proportions of students from disadvantaged backgrounds and thus require additional investment to ensure their retention and success, in higher education and beyond. There was general support from a large proportion of respondents to the consultation for targeting funding in this way.

23. Based on suggestions made in the consultation responses, the Board agreed that the supplement within the full-time student premium should be broadened to recognise students from both POLAR 3 quintile 1 and quintile 2 (the consultation originally proposed only quintile 1).

24. Consultation respondents supported the proposal to incorporate into a part-time student premium the funding previously provided through our separate targeted allocation for part-time undergraduates. The Board also agreed to continue to provide a part-time student premium, which will now incorporate the funding previously provided through our separate targeted allocation for part-time undergraduates.

Supporting disabled students

25. We have increased the funding for disabled students from £20 million in 2015-16 to £40 million in 2016-17, with the aim of supporting HE providers to move towards inclusive models of support and to meet the rapid rise in students reporting disabilities, particularly mental health issues. We intend to maintain this level of funding for 2017-18, to enable providers to continue to invest, and will review progress across the sector during this second year of additional support.

26. The funding for 2016-17 was weighted to reflect the proportion of an institution’s headcount population of UK students in receipt of DSA, applied to a volume measure reflecting its numbers of HEFCE-fundable (home and European Union) full-time equivalent students. Given the recent reforms to the DSA, we consulted in HEFCE 2016/10 on whether there were more appropriate alternative sources of data that we could consider to calculate the allocation of this funding.

27. The consultation responses indicated that that there should be a move away from the use of DSA after the reforms from 2016-17, as this would under-represent the proportion of disabled students at each institution. This was particularly thought to be the case for students with mental health problems, who are unlikely to apply for and access DSA.

28. The Board considered a number of options and agreed that, on the basis of the responses to the consultation, a premium for disabled students should be provided from 2017-18 based on both the number of undergraduate and postgraduate students in receipt of DSA and those not in receipt of DSA who self-declare as having a disability on either the Higher Education Statistics Agency student record or the Individualised Learner Record. In addition, the Board agreed that an appropriate weighting should be derived between the two measures and a cap applied to institutional changes in the first year, to support our broader aim of enabling institutions to transition to inclusive models of support. We will then review a move to using only Higher Education Statistics Agency and Individualised Learner Record self-declared disability status for 2018-19, taking into account the implications of trends in access to DSA and patterns of support provision.

Taught postgraduate funding

29. The current teaching funding model for taught postgraduate education mirrors the undergraduate model by targeting high-cost subjects. Since 2012-13, we have provided a supplement of £1,100 for postgraduate taught students (apart from those studying classroom-based subjects and those on courses eligible under the undergraduate student support scheme).

30. Following the introduction of masters loans of up to £10,000 from 2016-17, we consulted in HEFCE 2016/10 on the removal of the supplement for provision on courses designated for the loan, the extension of the supplement to all price groups for provision on courses ineligible for the loan, and retargeting of the remaining funding towards supporting the progression of under-represented groups at taught postgraduate level.

31. Based on the consultation feedback that changes to the supplement would be premature, the Board agreed to continue with the existing approach to supporting postgraduate study in 2017-18, but to make changes from 2018-19. The Board agreed this with the aim of understanding further the impact of the masters loans before changing its approach, and to undertaking further work on a methodology for addressing disadvantage at taught postgraduate level.

Yours sincerely

Professor Madeleine Atkins

Chief Executive


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Date: 20 September 2016

Ref: Circular letter 27/2016

To: Heads of HEFCE-funded further education colleges, Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions

Of interest to those
responsible for:

Widening access and student success, Finance, Senior management, Planning, Governance, Learning and teaching, Partnership, Schools and colleges liaison

Enquiries should be directed to:

NCOP: Clair Murphy (tel 0117 931 7138, email or Samantha Dyer (tel 0117 931 7280, email

Teaching funding: Richard Smith (tel 0117 931 7180, email or Nicholas Dibley (tel 0117 931 7471, email