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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.

As part of our report on 'Delivering opportunities for students and maximising their success: Evidence for policy and practice 2015-2020' we set out a number of actions to address effectiveness and impact. 

Outcomes framework 

As part of this process, we worked with researchers and institutions to develop an outcomes framework to understand clearly the impact of widening participation and our funds. 

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

An in-depth study aims to understand how the outcomes framework could measure the relative impact of a wider range of access and student success activities and expenditure.

The report collates and assesses evidence of the impact of widening participation (WP) and explores some of the benefits and challenges in improving the evidence base. It 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. The report is accompanied by supplementary case studies illustrating evidence of impact and focusing on different aspects of WP.

The sister project investigated the feasibility of collecting additional data from institutions to evidence the impact of WP spending. It explored which data institutions 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 continue to 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 recommendation for an evidence and impact exchange.

We have used the outcomes framework designed by CFE Research to inform our approach to the evaluation of the National Collaborative Outreach Programme 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.

Previous events and other activity

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.

Evaluation 

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 1 June 2017