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HEFCE closed at the end of March 2018. The information on this website is historical and is no longer maintained.

Many of HEFCE's functions will be continued by the Office for Students, the new regulator of higher education in England, and Research England, the new council within UK Research and Innovation.

The HEFCE domain - - will continue to function until September 2018. At this point we will close the site entirely and all its information will only be available from the National Web Archive.


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Under the networks we funded a number of projects. We were keen to trial and roll out these solutions to other networks and potentially the sector more broadly.

Many of the outputs and reports associated with these projects are available in the outreach resources pool. Networks are encouraged to submit their own resources to add to this repository.

Please click on the links below for more details of the funded projects.


In January 2015 we issued a call to networks funded through the NNCO scheme for submissions to a project fund enabling innovative outreach in rural, coastal and urban settings.

We funded eleven small projects which were working to solve some of the persistent problems with outreach activities in rural and coastal areas, and urban areas where groups display significant and multi-layered disadvantage.

Progression to Russell Group institutions

There is data to indicate that there are significant disparities across schools, local authorities and regions in progressing to HEIs with a higher tariff. This project complemented and added value to the work of networks by identifying a specific issue – progression to selective HEIs – and taking specific actions to address this.

Twenty-four leading universities worked with schools and colleges to develop continuing professional development resources for teachers and advisors who support learners making their Key Stage 4, Key Stage 5 and university choices. This project provided a portfolio of free, online and interactive continuing professional development materials to enable teachers to provide information and advice on progression to HE and specifically to selective institutions. This was supplemented with targeted ‘on-the-ground delivery’ of activities and an online ‘virtual fair’ for teachers, with regular live chat interaction with university representatives and advisors.

The resources should be of particular value to target schools located some distance from universities, and those schools with little history of progression to selective universities.

Vocational progression in the North East

In the North East less of the working population holds a qualification at Level 4 or above than the rest of the UK. A group of nine FECs, led by New College Durham and involving the Association of Colleges North East, worked together to:

  • increase the awareness and understanding of employers, young people and their advisers, and adults regarding the opportunities available to them in the region. This involved advice and guidance for engaging in professional, technical and vocational qualification progression routes at Level 4 and above
  • promote the benefits to employers, and their employees, of engaging in higher education on a part-time, flexible or work-based basis
  • improve the relevance and responsiveness to the needs of employers of higher level professional, vocational and technical education provision in the North East. 

Progression into the professions in Greater London

The University of Westminster Collaborative Outreach Partnership ran an employer-led engagement programme in the greater London area.

The partnership provided information, advice and guidance to students at schools and colleges in the form of ‘real life’ advice from employers and professional bodies. It aimed to support routes into the professions for learners from disadvantaged groups. 

The support included:

  • explanation of courses, routes into HE and key professions with careers advice and case studies
  • online and face-to-face taster sessions
  • site visits to employers and major projects
  • interview practice and feedback with young managers
  • a series of materials for teachers, pupils, students, advisors and parents.

Enabling innovative outreach in rural, coastal and urban settings

Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridgeshire and Essex Networks

There is a range of interventions in schools targeted at specific pupil groups at the higher and lower end of the achievement scale. The result is that there is a ‘missed middle group’ in terms of existing outreach provision. This is where the Mobilising the Marginalised Middle (3M) project was located. Building confidence and self-efficacy through the medium of digital skills assisted a cohort of children to aspire to engage with studies through a more exciting and innovative medium; one they have at their fingertips: their SMART phone device.

This pilot project targeted three secondary schools (an urban school, a coastal school and a rural school) and brought a cohort of 50 pupils onto the university, to work with student ‘digital ambassadors’.


Plymouth University, Devon Network

This pilot project trialled and tested the use of innovative digital technologies, including social media, in rural, coastal and urban areas which aligned with the HEFCE Devon Network for collaborative provision. These areas have a limited HE presence, being in isolated settings with limited access to transport links.

The project promoted a suite of immersive e-resources to engage, enthuse and promote HE among potential students and their parents. The project team included current students as co-researchers to assist with the development and delivery of outreach activities enabling the project to be truly delivered with ‘students as partners’.


Falmouth University, Universities Cornwall Network

Through a multi-channel, targeted social media campaign, Falmouth University worked with the HEFCE Devon Network to address issues and barriers into HE.

By using digital communication and e-resources, the campaign aimed to overcome the barriers to information that have been experienced by rural localities across Cornwall. The campaign focused on three audiences:

  • parents (of under-19s) who did not go to higher education
  • teachers
  • parents of disabled learners. 


Arts University Bournemouth with the University of Bath, Southern Universities Network and Western Outreach Network

This project aimed to address the issues of HE progression in rural areas through outreach work with young people living in rural communities to explore aspirations and post-16 options.

The pilot project utilised ‘theatre in education’ as a medium for outreach messaging. A performance was developed, written, performed and then recorded and stored using the ‘panopto platform’. This interactive technology enables the production materials to be accessed by remote schools.


University of Bedfordshire, Bedfordshire and Milton Keynes Network and Sport England

The aim of this project was to address multiple and layered disadvantages experienced by students with disabilities in the main urban areas of the network, Bedford, Luton and Milton Keynes, using sport as a medium for engagement. 

While the University of Bedfordshire had experienced an increase in participation in sport among its students, there was still a gap in provision for sport aimed at the physically disabled, specifically wheelchair users. The project sought to enhance the experience and welfare of students in receipt of disabled students' allowance at the university by providing new opportunities to engage in sport.

In addition, there was a focus on outreach to the community and schools, providing opportunities for engagement in sport, and a ‘soft’ introduction to higher education (participants are being monitored through the HEAT tracker). 

A long-term aim of the pilot was to develop a model of outreach that could be used in other parts of the country.


University of Suffolk, Suffolk and Norfolk Network and Suffolk County Council

A report commissioned by agcas in December 2014 highlighted that parents significantly influence their children in their education and career choices but that parents in the East of England were least likely to encourage their children to go into higher education.

This pilot project engaged a targeted group of parents of children aged 12-15 and initially focused on Ipswich, which had a HE participation rate of around half the national average.

The project used a peer approach using social media to enable parents of students already engaged in higher education to share their experience with those who may not have previously considered this as an option.

The key aims were:

  • to increase participation in HE areas with traditionally extremely low levels of participation
  • to target the parents of those least likely to participate through innovative and accessible material
  • to pilot innovative web-based tools and content, vlogs, webinars and talks
  • to start to make the aspiration of going to university a reality in a community where educational aspiration is significantly low.


Canterbury Christ Church University, Kent and Medway Collaborative Network and The Sussex Learning Network, The University of Portsmouth and The Brightside Trust

While the South East has some of the wealthiest areas of England, there are areas of significant deprivation and low progression into higher education, particularly in rural and coast locations.

This pilot project built upon institutional expertise in this area and used The Brightside Trust as a delivery partner. The project developed, tested, evaluated and made targeted online mentoring available for young people at four particular points of transition (years 9, 10, 12 and 13). This was via a selection of schools serving rural and coastal areas in Kent, Sussex and Hampshire. Participants are being monitored through the HEAT tracker.

The experience and expertise gained by Brightside in developing and delivering this programme will enable them to roll out the programme nationally after December 2016.

The project engaged the local LEPs and used local employers as mentors alongside specialist graduate and undergraduate mentors from across the area and beyond.  

University of Hull, University of Hull Federation of Regional Colleges for Engagement, in partnership with Higher York, and Lincolnshire Outreach Network

This pilot project involved work with ten schools in eight towns: Whitby, Scarborough, Filey, Bridlington, Withernsea, Cleethorpes, Skegness and Boston, covering a stretch of 183 miles of coastline. These towns have particular shared issues with:

  • significant pockets of low aspiration
  • high unemployment
  • high levels of deprivation
  • geographical remoteness, both in terms of distance to HEIs and ability to travel.

The project sought to use innovative approaches to raise aspiration, attainment and progression.

The innovation was focused in experiential learning (developing pupils' own capacities to change) and technology (enabling greater interaction between student ambassadors and pupils).

In autumn 2015 HEFCE invited NNCO networks to submit proposals for project funding under one or more of three strands:

  • The exploration of HEFCE analysis of gaps in participation relating to GCSE attainment in the NNCO context
  • The exploration of the patterns of participation in and progression through HE, and the specific information, advice and guidance (IAG) needs of BME groups which will lead to greater success in their HE course
  • The exploration of means of embedding NNCO networks in the wider skills strategies of the local area, including working with Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs).

We funded seven projects under the three strands and each of these ran until December 2016.

REACH Partnership - Greater Manchester Higher, Kent and Medway Collaborative Network, Merseyside Network for Collaborative Outreach, National Education Opportunities Network

GCSE Attainment: Examining the gaps

This project aimed to understand why certain schools and colleges, despite having large numbers of disadvantaged learners, have a higher level of participation in higher education than predicted by their GCSE attainment.

Investigating school culture

Working with four networks for collaborative outreach, the project worked with schools and colleges in both a rural and urban context. The project investigated school culture and the attitudes of governors, teachers and students. It took into account the views of widening access practitioners and developed a model of engagement with schools and HE.

Developing interventions

Through the research findings a number of interventions were developed. These were trialled with schools and colleges that have a lower than expected level of participation in higher education. The findings were disseminated nationally allowing widening access practitioners, and their partner schools or colleges, to implement the model of school and college/HE engagement and to run proven interventions that can increase future participation.

Explore University – Universities of Wolverhampton, Harper-Adams, Keele and Staffordshire, and Telford College of Arts and Technology

Breaking Through the GCSE Barrier

Some schools are more successful than others in supporting their pupils to progress into higher education (HE). This project looked at schools that have a higher number of learners progressing to HE than would be predicted by GCSE achievement rates.

We sought to answer a number of key questions including:

  • To what extent has information, advice and guidance in school promoted student progression beyond GCSE?
  • How has the home contributed?
  • How have the home and the school worked together?
  • How do the individual learners themselves account for their motivation and decision making?

Students worked alongside the project team to develop materials for students, teachers and families based on their experiences of the strategies discussed and project findings. 

University of London

Prepare to Succeed: Better student outcomes for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Learners in London

AccessHE was running a London-based project which looked at how to improve outcomes for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) students in higher education (HE) and beyond. The project was created in response to research which showed that some BAME student groups have less opportunity to access and progress into and through higher education and in work than other students.

This project focused on the information, advice and guidance (IAG) provided for BAME students before their progression on to HE, and sought to identify whether this could be improved to give students an equal opportunity to succeed in higher education and after graduation.

Students were invited to take part in focus groups talking about their experiences of IAG and support activities before entering HE. The research from these focus groups helped universities and students co-produce new IAG support activities which were trialled in schools at the start of the 2016-17 academic year.

AccessHE worked with eight higher education providers in London on the ‘Prepare to Succeed’ project:

  • GSM London
  • Kingston University London
  • London School of Economics and Political Science
  • London South Bank University
  • Royal Veterinary College
  • St Mary’s University, Twickenham
  • University College London
  • University of Greenwich

Oxford Brookes

HE-related information, advice and guidance for Pakistani and Bangladeshi girls

This project aimed to explore the higher education information, advice and guidance (IAG) needs of Bangladeshi and Pakistani girls for greater success in their HE courses.

The project worked in High Wycombe, Reading and Oxford. It aimed to link with relevant community groups, target schools and current undergraduate students to trial outreach activities which deliver pre-application IAG, viewing this as a forerunner to later student success.

New College Durham

Action-Oriented Partnerships embedding NNCOs within LEP Plans

The project extended the ‘Vocational progression in the North East’ project, in particular the focus on improving the provision of higher education skills to the needs of employers.

The project sought to deepen engagement within local enterprise partnership (LEP) planning around higher level skills by:

  • working with employers in the ‘priority’ sectors in the region’s LEPs to identify instances of unmet demand for higher level skills provision
  • forming effective partnerships between employers and selected NNCO partners (and other training organisations) to design and implement higher level skills solutions
  • exploring funding opportunities (most notably the European Social Fund) with the relevant LEP and other partners to support a process for meeting employer demand for higher level skills. Furthermore, the project aimed to embed these approaches within relevant LEP strategic and skills planning processes
  • working with the relevant LEPs to share best practice and lessons learnt across the NNCO network, other training provider networks and employer networks, on both a local and national basis.

University of Leeds

Mapping the Local Skills Plans Landscape and Embedding the NNCO

There is growing demand for higher level skills in the Leeds City Region but the proportion of the region's workforce holding level 4 and above qualifications is much lower than the national average and in neighbouring regions.

This project built on the success of the HEART NNCO to increase the proportion of the workforce with higher level qualifications and skills. This supported objectives for the local enterprise partnership (LEP), local authorities and higher education providers.

It recognised research, such as the Gatsby Foundation report, that reinforces the benefits of a co-ordinated, stable approach to higher education and careers information and advice alongside regular opportunities to engage with employers, higher education and experience the work place. This enabled individuals to make informed decisions at key transition points in education. In turn, this helped to supply the workforce with the level of qualification and skills required by employers.

The project:

  • worked with the NNCO to develop alignment with the LEP and local authorities' skills plans
  • adjusted NNCO operation to ensure that all initiatives with schools, such as those involving employers or delivering guidance, could be communicated via the single point of contact
  • played an active role in shaping the higher level skills element of the LEP skills plan
  • shared best practice with other NNCOs.

Sheffield Hallam University

Developing cohesive skills and higher or degree apprenticeship routes for construction and engineering employers in the Sheffield City Region

This project aimed to provide employers within the Sheffield City Region (SCR) with much needed information on how to develop their workforce through apprenticeships.

The project mapped existing provision across all levels and communicated clear progression pathways from level 2 to 7 to employers and their existing and potential employees.

Construction and engineering sectors were targetted, due to their needs and the priorities of the SCR local enterprise partnership.

The project was led by the Directorate of Education and Employer Partnerships at Sheffield Hallam University with employers and HE providers within the SCR. 

Page last updated 17 August 2017