A review of collaborative support for improving equality of opportunity in access to higher education

This report outlines the findings and conclusions of a review of the landscape of collaborative outreach in England. By ‘collaborative outreach’ we mean the ways that higher education institutions (HEIs) work together, and with partners, to improve equality of opportunity in access to higher education. Government funding for collaborative outreach is currently provided through the Uni Connect programme.

The Office for Students (OfS) commissioned a team from Public First to investigate and answer five key questions in relation to collaborative outreach:

  1. What is working well about Uni Connect, and to what extent is there variation across the provision and partnerships?

What is not working well about Uni Connect, and to what extent is there variation across the provision and partnerships?

  1. What are the opportunities for a future, more effective, model of collaborative outreach?
  2. What are the risks of adopting a different funding and/or delivery model?
  3. What are the risks associated with making the transition to a new model and how can these be mitigated?

To answer these questions, the review team conducted research between June and December 2023. This included desk research to understand the historical, international and wider public policy context of collaborative outreach, qualitative fieldwork with over three hundred stakeholders, site visits and a survey of staff in the Uni Connect programme. In parallel, Public First also conducted an analysis of Uni Connect’s economic and social impact.

Key findings

  • There is a strong underlying case for some form of centrally funded programme to encourage and deliver high quality collaborative research.
  • Collaborative outreach programmes can be transformative for individuals and provide the ‘connective tissue’ that strengthens higher education access within regions and nationally.
  • Uni Connect could be more consistently effective and impactful.
  • There is evidence of several reasons for Uni Connect not consistently delivering to its potential.
  • Although some stakeholder views did not always align, it is clear that the OfS can and should take some actions to strengthen the benefits of Uni Connect and maximise the value for money of a centrally funded programme in future years.

Read the report in full here.