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


This stream of our programme of research into the impact of outreach has now concluded, and we have published:

We encourage universities and colleges to use the evaluation tool, and build this in to the ongoing development and delivery of their access agreements and wider institutional strategies.


In September 2016, OFFA commissioned a team led by Dr John Butcher at The Open University to investigate how universities and colleges evaluate the impact of their outreach schemes on access to higher education for disadvantaged adult learners with low or no prior qualifications. 

In recent years, we have asked institutions to focus on mature learners as a particular target group. Research shows that mature students are more likely than younger students to be from an ethnic minority, hold non-traditional qualifications and have disabilities, among other measures of disadvantage, and this creates specific barriers for access to higher education. Many institutions are addressing this through outreach approaches specifically designed to reach mature students. Our aim in this project was to develop, in partnership with institutions, a common approach to evaluation which takes account of the particular challenges in determining the success of work with this relatively small group of students.  

Project team

The team for this project comprised researchers from The Open University, alongside researchers from Birkbeck College, the University of Bristol and the University of Leeds. Each institution took a distinctive approach to the brief, providing five case studies showcasing different approaches to outreach to adult learners. Their combined expertise covered areas including distance learning, pre-entry curricula, lifelong learning, evening degrees, and subject specific outreach.  

Principal Investigator

Dr John Butcher, Senior Lecturer and Deputy Director, Centre for Inclusion and Collaborative Partnerships, The Open University

Researchers – Centre for Inclusion and Collaborative Partnerships, The Open University

Wendy Fowle, Senior Manager, Research and Evaluation (Widening Access and Success)

Kate Hawkins, Research and Evaluation Officer

Partner institutions

Birkbeck College, University of London

Dr Kerry Harman, Programme Director, Higher Education Introductory Studies

University of Bristol

Tom Sperlinger, Reader in English Literature and Community Engagement

Zoe Pither, Student Support Manager, UK Student Recruitment

University of Leeds

Lindsey Fraser, Deputy Director (Partnerships), Lifelong Learning Centre

Want more information?

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