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Demonstrating the effectiveness and impact of student access, success and progression 

We aim to promote and provide the opportunity for successful participation in higher education to everyone who can benefit from it. The funds we allocate to institutions support this aim directly. 

We know from national data that the sector has made significant progress in terms of widening access and improving retention. Institutions clearly recognise the need for better evidence to underpin policy and practice, but there is more to do to ensure that interventions and approaches are being systematically evaluated.

Outcomes framework 

We have been working with researchers and institutions to develop an outcomes framework to understand clearly the impact of widening participation and our funds.  

This work follows the Government’s publication of the National Strategy for Access and Student Success. 

We commissioned and published two research projects to develop the framework. 

‘Deep dives’

An in-depth study and survey has put together ‘deep dive’ case studies with a group of 25 institutions.

These aim to understand how the outcomes framework could measure the relative impact of a wider range of access and student success activities and expenditure.

Data returns

Another project has looked at the data institutions can provide. It:

  • developed and piloted annual data returns from universities and colleges that receive the Student Opportunity allocation as part of their annual teaching grant 
  • developed a conceptual framework for understanding the return on investment from the allocation, in terms of the activities it supports and the benefits arising for individuals and their local communities, and the economy and society more broadly.

This project worked with a group of 15 institutions. It explored which data they are currently able to provide and which data might be desirable to collect in future in order to demonstrate impact.

Robust evaluation – ongoing activity

We analyse data from different sources to proactively develop an understanding of access, participation and student success. We are working closely with the Office for Fair Access, Universities UK and other partners to address recommendations of the Social Mobility Advisory Group on improving the evidence base on widening participation, including the potential for an evidence and impact exchange as recommended.

  • We have used the outcomes framework designed by CFE Research to inform our approach to the evaluation of NCOP and the evaluation of the Barriers to Student Success programme. It is also a condition of grant that all projects are robustly evaluated using rigorous research methods.
  • We continue to work with institutions, Government and experts in the field to develop indicators and approaches that recognise the added value that institutions deliver to diverse groups of students.
  • We continue to fund the roll-out of the Higher Education Access Tracker over 2014-15 to 2016-17.
  • We are undertaking a two-phase review to evaluate the impact of our increased funding to support disability.
  • We are evaluating the success of the Postgraduate Support Scheme 2015-16 for widening participation.


In April 2016 we held a conference entitled 'The future of evaluation and evidence across the student lifecycle'. The conference explored what the sector as a whole needs to evaluate institutional activity on student access, success and progression across the student lifecycle. 

See the presentation slides from the event.


We have been working with institutions to develop approaches to evaluating their widening participation commitments. 

In 2014 we commissioned an evaluation toolkit to highlight good practice, tools and resources. This is part of a suite of four toolkits drawing on a legacy of resources from Aimhigher and the Lifelong learning partnerships (these are now housed on the Higher Education Academy website).

Further information 

For further information on our approach to evidencing impact, please contact Jennifer Allen, 0117 931 7225. 

Page last updated 10 May 2017