From education to employment

New report shows investment in widening access to higher education to fall if Uni-Connect programme not renewed

Dr Neil Raven

Research released today by the National Education Opportunities Network (@NEONHE) examining the Access and Participation Plans (APPs) of 171 Higher Education Providers shows that from 2022-23 the total invested in activities to support those from disadvantaged backgrounds to enter HE will fall unless there is continued funding provided for the national Uni-Connect programme.

The report entitled ‘The outlook for outreach, also finds that investment in activities for learners post 16 is almost double that for those younger than 16, despite the wealth of evidence that shows young people form their future educational ambitions at the pre 16 stage. This difference in investment between those pre and post 16 is also set to grow over the 2020-21 to 2024-25 period covered by the plans.

As the author of the report Neil Raven states:

‘Whilst the report confirms the real commitment of HE providers to widening access, it also highlights the essential and complementary role that Uni Connect plays and the need to secure the programme’s long-term future.’

In addition, the report outlines how across the 171 plans there was a very small number of targets related to supporting progression into HE for specific underrepresented groups. There were only:

  • 33 targets related to care leavers
  • 30 targets for disabled students
  • 26 targets concerned with mature learners.

Further examination of the targets set by providers also revealed a shortage of focus on collaboration. Of the targets related to access to HE only 15.5% were collaborative ones shared with other organisations/providers including Uni-Connect partnerships. The report also includes detailed analysis of APPs from 36 providers drawn from across different geographical areas and institutional types. This detailed analysis shows that while the Uni-Connect programme is very visible in the commentary on activities in these plans, it only features in 4 of their collaborative targets.

As the Director of the National Education Opportunities Network (NEON) Professor Graeme Atherton states:

This report emphasises that the efforts made by HE providers to widen access to HE and contribute to the governments ‘Levelling Up’ agenda need the support of a national collaborative programme like Uni-Connect. Without this support as the educational after-shocks of Covid continue we will see young people with the potential to enter HE denied it because of where they live’.

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