It is vital that the government continues direct support for collaboration between universities, schools and colleges if access to higher education (HE) is to become more equal, but this support should be focused on work with younger learners and guaranteed until at least 2025 a new report "What next for the National Collaborative Outreach Programme?" released on the 23rd January by the National Education Opportunities Network (NEON) argues.

The National Collaborative Outreach Project (NCOP), which will be rebranded Uni-Connect by the higher education regulator, the Office for Students next week, has provided up to £240 million since 2017 for university led partnerships on activities with over 300,000 15 - 18 year olds in wards with low levels of HE participation to help them progress to HE.

This report, which gathers the perspectives of leaders of 17 of the 29 local NCOP partnerships, highlights the key role the programme has played in giving schools and colleges resources to support the progression of their students. Over 1600 schools, from many of the lowest income areas in the country, are part of the programme.

As head of the Higher Horizons+, which serves the Staffordshire, Cheshire and Shropshire areas, Mr Anthony Sutcliffe states:

‘The National Collaborative Outreach Programme is transforming the aspirations and resilience of our fantastic young people across Staffordshire, Cheshire and Shropshire, without a doubt.  In creating clear and accessible pathways to higher education, underpinned with progressive and sustained support from our team, we are now starting to see a significant impact, with our host university, for example, almost doubling the amount of the most underrepresented young people enrolling since 2014.’

Funding for the programme is due to end in July 2021. The Office for Students will be consulting on its future this Spring.

Dr Graeme Atherton 100x100As the editor of the report Dr. Graeme Atherton, Director of NEON, states this review will be one of the first opportunities for the new government to demonstrate its commitment to social mobility.

‘NCOP, or from next week Uni-Connect, concentrates on giving chances to young people in the many of the areas who have been left behind by social and economic change. They are relying on the new government which has more MPs serving these areas than ever before, to ensure they are not left behind too.’

The NCOP brings together partnerships (known as ‘consortia’ in phase one) of universities, colleges and other local partners to deliver outreach programmes to young people in Years 9 to 13. The work of these partnerships is focused on local areas where higher education participation is low overall and lower than might be expected given the GCSE results of the young people who live there. In England 997 wards were identified as NCOP target areas. 

The National Education Opportunities Network (NEON) is the professional organisation supporting those involved in widening access to higher education. NEON enables those working in widening access, at all levels and in all sectors, to affect change in their own organisations and communities, and is a membership based organisation. It is part of London Higher which is an ‘umbrella body’ representing over 40 universities and higher education colleges in London.

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