Time. Money. Resources. To be precise, universities are spending around £800 MILLION a year on improving access to their courses.
But the sharing of information on how best to really make a difference has been limited.
This is why Villiers Park Educational Trust welcomes the announcement today of the Evidence and Impact Exchange (EIX). We look forward to contributing our own research to the 'What Works' centre, along with like-minded charities, to help other organisations striving towards a common goal: improve outcomes and progression for less advantaged young people.
Our CEO Rae Tooth explains, "Universities are spending all this money, but debate about the best way to target this investment remains heated. Charities, like Villiers Park, have a long history of robust evaluation and understand how to make a real difference to the lives of the young people we work with.
"The EIX is an excellent, government funded, opportunity for us to share our knowledge, help other organisations achieve greater social mobility and also learn from an international community of people who both deliver and study outreach."
The new independent centre will be funded by the Office for Students (OfS) to help universities meet challenging targets to eliminate equality gaps in higher education within 20 years. The EIX - which will be set up by a consortium from King’s College London, Nottingham Trent University and the Behavioural Insights Team (also known as the Nudge Unit) - will promote equality of opportunity by providing evidence on the impact of different approaches to widening access and improving outcomes and progression for less advantaged students.
The government says it has ambitious targets to eliminate gaps in entry and drop-out rates between the most and least represented groups, and gaps in degree outcomes between white and black and disabled and non-disabled students.
But universities must pull their weight.
The OfS is also today publishing new guidance for the access and participation plans universities must set towards these targets and have approved as a condition of their registration with the OfS.
Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation at the OfS, said: "Staff working at the coal face [in widening access and participation] have been calling out for a central place for evidence on effective approaches to be systematically gathered and shared. The EIX will meet this need, improving outcomes for students and providing better value for money on the investments that are made.
"At the same time, we will expect universities to set stretching targets for themselves and take real action to close gaps in their institutions. This is the start of a new, more strategic approach to improving access and participation, and universities will need to up their game to make the grade."
We welcome the announcement today from the Office for Students (OfS) that King’s College London, Nottingham Trent University and the Behavioural Insights Team have been appointed to run the Evidence and Impact Exchange (EIX) - a ‘What Works Centre’ to promote access, success and progression in higher education (HE) for underrepresented groups of students.
HE should be a route open to all young people, irrespective of background. But we have a big and persistent social mobility problem in the UK: young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are half as likely to progress to HE as their peers.
To address this gap, universities submit an access and participation plan to the OfS detailing initiatives they will undertake to widen participation, and commit a proportion of their fee income to funding this vital activity. This amounts to around £860m across the sector, representing about 2.7% of total HE expenditure. It is vital that this money is spent well.
The purpose of the EIX is to be a national repository for evidence on the impact of approaches to access and participation in HE, and to ensure that the most effective approaches are recognised and shared. By collating existing research, identifying gaps in current evidence and generating its own research to fill those gaps, the EIX will play a critical role in disseminating accessible information and advice to decision makers across the HE sector.
As charities working to ensure that more young people from underrepresented groups access and succeed in HE, we rigorously measure our impact. We know that our programmes are getting thousands of young people into and through HE who would not otherwise have had this opportunity. We welcome the opportunity to contribute our evidence of impact to the EIX and to learn from what others in the sector are doing well.
Together with the OfS’s new proposals for regulating access and participation plans and their forthcoming evidence and evaluation strategy, the EIX will elevate what works in widening participation so that the best approaches are adopted, funded and scaled. This is a transformative moment for the sector and one that should be celebrated.
We hope the Augar panel and the government’s post-18 education funding review are watching these developments closely. With so much focus on impact, now is not the time to turn our backs on the funding the sector needs to do this work well. We re-iterate our call for the government to make a public commitment to protecting this funding.
Nathan Sansom, CEO, The Access Project
Anand Shukla, CEO, Brightside
Julie Randles, CEO, Causeway Education
Andy Ratcliffe, CEO, Impetus-PEF
Rachel Carr, CEO, IntoUniversity
Johnny Rich, CEO, Push
John Craven, CEO, upReach
Rae Tooth, CEO, Villiers Park Educational Trust