This blog is part of the series featuring ideas contained in the new HEPI-Brightside report, Reaching the parts of society universities have missed: A manifesto for the new Director for Fair Access and ParticipationIt showcases the idea from Ant Sutcliffe, Head, and Dr Hannah Merry, Operations Manager, at the Higher Horizons+ National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP) consortium.


Higher education providers are well-placed to lead collaborative networks which raise the aspirations and attainment of disadvantaged young people in their locality. From years of leading and evaluating widening participation work, we believe that collaborative outreach is not only ethically sound in an increasingly marketised sector, but is also financially efficient, reducing unnecessary duplication of work while utilising the varied strengths of a broad range of partners.

External funding is necessary to make higher education institutions work together effectively. This means collaborating on a variety of targeted interventions over a prolonged period, leading to the positive relationships with young people which are key to successful entry and progression through higher education.

The Office for Students should therefore provide external funding for a national programme for Year 5 pupils to Year 11 pupils which helps to break some of the cultural barriers to higher education based in class and localism that are difficult to tackle through short-term interventions.

Widening participation professionals are well placed to assess, identify, and overcome these barriers in partnership with businesses, schools, the community and national careers advice provision. With support from the Office for Students for a collaborative programme, universities’ central teams could then focus more on community-building projects, the mature student market, progression programmes for Year 12 and Year 13 pupils, and post-entry support to create a sustainable, whole lifecycle approach to widening participation and student success.