This blog was kindly contributed by Jenny Ann Allen, Access and Participation Funding Manager, and Kirsty Johnson, Access and Participation Manager, at the Office for Students (OfS).
A new Office for Students consultation proposes a more targeted approach to higher education collaborative outreach with a greater focus on further education and mature learners.
Uni Connect is an important part of the Office for Students’ (OfS’s) strategy to deliver equality of opportunity in higher education. Through a network of 29 local partnerships, Uni Connect provides a bridge between schools, colleges and universities.
It helps students from backgrounds underrepresented in higher education understand what career options are open to them and the different education and training routes available to them to get there.
This has been especially important during the pandemic as schools and colleges are understandably focussed on supporting young peoples’ wellbeing, progress and attainment.
What Uni Connect does
The programme offers impartial information, advice and guidance (IAG) and higher education outreach to learners from underrepresented groups.
It provides a single point of contact for schools and colleges to find out what education opportunities and career pathways are available locally and nationally. It helps ensure that both young and mature underrepresented students can access higher education that is right for them and gives them the skills that will lead to employment and economic growth.
In 2018-19, the most recent year for which we have published data, over 180,000 target learners from more than 1,600 schools and colleges took part in Uni Connect outreach activities including one-to-one mentoring, subject area master classes and campus visits led by student ambassadors.
The partnerships have proved to be agile and flexible in response to the pandemic, rapidly moving their activity online and working to address digital poverty. This has allowed them to continue to support the young people they had been working with before the pandemic, and, in some cases, increase the number of learners they were able to reach.
Growing evidence base
Alongside the consultation on the future of the programme, we are also publishing an independent review of partnerships’ evaluation evidence. The report highlights that the programme’s approach to planned and sustained engagement through multiple activities is more likely to deliver positive learner outcomes than one-off interventions.
The review helps us understand more about which activities are particularly effective to achieve changes in different areas of learners’ knowledge, attitudes and intentions towards higher education.
Higher education has an important role to play in addressing both economic and societal needs as the country emerges from the pandemic. Locally, universities and colleges will be critical partners, working with employers, local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) and others to ensure the needs of local communities and economies are met.
To make sure that we focus on the young people who will benefit most from the support Uni Connect provides, the consultation sets out a new approach to programme targeting through identifying the highest priority schools and colleges.
The consultation also outlines how we intend to give greater focus to a broad range of routes through and into higher education including following technical pathways and through further education. We also propose a stronger focus on engaging mature students who are more likely to enter higher education with non-traditional qualifications.
We want to hear from universities, colleges, Uni Connect partnerships, schools and other stakeholders to help inform our future approach.