Evidence and good practice

Our role

OFFA is working to help build and share the evidence around widening participation and fair access, and the wider understanding of which approaches and activities have the greatest impact. 

This is a key aspect of our support for the higher education sector to make the further, faster progress that we have challenged it to achieve. There is more information about this in our strategic plan.

Why do we do this?

We are aiming to foster a culture of enquiry and strategic, evidence-based policy development and practice among universities and colleges.

As we all understand more about the things that work best in different contexts and over the various stages of the student lifecycle, universities and colleges will be increasingly better equipped to operate in the most effective ways, using national, regional and institutional-level evidence. That will increase the impact of what they do.  

How we do it

We carry out our own research and analysis, using the wealth of information that we gather from our assessment and monitoring of access agreements, and from discussions with institutions and other stakeholders, about what universities and colleges are doing and how much impact that is having.

We also collaborate with others within the higher education sector and beyond, to identify where greater evidence is needed and to support the research that will fill those gaps.

In some cases this means commissioning research, or supporting it in innovative ways that achieve invaluable insights at low or no cost. But it also means encouraging universities to harness the expertise of their own academics and researchers, and working with a range of partners to understand how to get maximum benefit from the growing focus in the sector on data analysis and evaluation. 

And, crucially, we help to share existing and emerging evidence for the benefit of the whole higher education sector. We do this through events, conferences and publications: we have published a variety of analysis, data and progress reports from work either carried out in-house or in partnership with others.

Above all, we ensure that our own guidance to universities and colleges is informed by the latest knowledge, so that we use our strongest lever for change – access agreements – to encourage them to translate evidence into practice through their access agreement strategies. 

OFFA evidence strategy

When considering what research we want to do, commission or encourage, we follow a strategy which you can read at the link below. We hope it will be useful to researchers looking to work with us, and others interested in our work to help build the evidence around fair access.

OFFA Evidence Strategy

Completed projects

The following work has concluded. Click to read more about the outcomes of each project:

Understanding the impact of institutional financial support

Understanding a whole institution approach to widening participation

Understanding the impact of outreach activity for mature learners with low or no prior qualifications

Writing for publication for widening participation practitioners

Supporting the success and retention of students through digital learning solutions 

Where, when and what are students searching? 

Projects in progress

We are currently supporting the following work to improve and share evidence. Click to read more about each project:

Improving the evaluation of outreach

Understanding the evaluation of outreach interventions to widen access to higher education for under 16 year-olds in England from disadvantaged backgrounds

Understanding and overcoming the challenges of targeting students from under-represented and disadvantaged ethnic backgrounds

Understanding the impact of OFFA’s approach to using evidence to promote effective practice in access and participation

Further information

Contact Richard Shiner, Head of Evidence and Good Practice (0117 931 7171, richard.shiner@offa.org.uk)