Higher Education Funding Council England (HEFCE)
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A new approach to widening participation in higher education

HEFCE has announced a new programme to increase participation in higher education across England, the National Collaborative Outreach Programme.

Under the scheme, 29 local consortia will receive funding to deliver activity under the National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP) (Note 1). The programme will launch on 24 January 2017.

With funding of £60 million per year, the programme will drive a step change in the progression into higher education of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, including members of ethnic minority groups and young men.

Following a competitive process, the HEFCE Board approved funding for local consortia involving higher education providers, schools, colleges and other organisations such as charities and local agencies involved in education, careers and skills (Note 2). The programme will deliver collaborative outreach in specific local areas where participation in higher education is both low overall and lower than expected given GCSE attainment levels (Note 3). 

A total of 260 higher education providers in England are involved in the programme. The planned collaborations will ensure all 997 of the local wards identified in our analysis will be covered (Note 4).

Consortia will deliver tested approaches to outreach through schools and local communities, as well as developing innovative ways to meet specific challenges in different areas. These activities will build upon and provide a boost to existing outreach work taking place across England.

A large-scale evaluation programme will measure the impact of the programme from the start, using a range of methodologies at local and national level, including national data analysis, longitudinal tracking, qualitative research and randomised control trials.  The aim will be to build a powerful evidence base to ensure that investment is concentrated in activity that is shown to be the most effective.

Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson said:

‘We are seeing record numbers of disadvantaged young people going to university and benefitting from the real opportunities that our world-class universities can offer.

‘This funding and the schemes that have been developed by universities will make a real difference to young people in key areas. In addition to this, we are legislating for a new transparency duty which will place a clear requirement on all universities to release more information about their admissions process and real incentives on all institutions to go further and faster to promote social mobility.’

HEFCE Director of Policy Chris Millward said:

‘NCOP represents a significant investment by HEFCE in improving the life chances of young people in some of our most disadvantaged communities. Our evidence has shown that there are young people in these areas who are achieving the qualifications they need to benefit from higher education, but are not currently doing so. The programme will ensure that they are better equipped to make the right choice for them by exposing the range of higher education options available and the careers they make possible.’ 


  1. See more about the National Collaborative Outreach Programme.
  2. See the ‘Board decisions regarding the NCOP and teaching funding for widening access, successful student outcomes and progression to postgraduate study’ (HEFCE Circular letter 27/2016).
  3. See the maps of target wards.
  4. See HEFCE’s gaps analysis


Channel website: http://www.hefce.ac.uk

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