The national strategy’s vision is that all those with the potential to benefit from higher education have equal opportunity to participate and succeed, on a course and in an institution that best fit their potential, needs and ambitions for employment or further study. In recent years, good progress has made in these areas, and this is a tribute to the commitment and hard work of staff in universities and colleges, your partners and the students themselves. But, as the strategy highlights, there are still significant gaps in access, student success and progression for people from different backgrounds. There is a pressing need to do more to address these inequalities.
The national strategy sets aims for each stage of the student lifecycle – access to higher education, student success, and progression to employment and/or further study. It challenges universities, colleges, national bodies (including HEFCE and OFFA) and Government to bring fresh impetus and coherence to work in each of these areas. Your institutional plans – and those of other institutions – will be central to delivering the strategy’s aims.
How this relates to your work
The national strategy is not a list of instructions for university and college staff, but sets out overarching aims, themes and evidence that you will want to take into account when developing your strategies and plans for access, student success and progression. The main themes in the national strategy have already been reflected in our guidance note on ‘How to produce an access agreement for 2015-16’.
The details of your approach will, of course, vary depending on your institution’s own strategic aims, mission and context, but there are three overarching themes in the national strategy that all institutions will want to bear in mind:
- a whole student lifecycle approach
- evidence-based practice
- effective collaboration and partnership at every level.
A whole lifecycle approach
Evidence shows that it’s crucial to take a broad view of widening participation encompassing a learner’s entire lifecycle. This means supporting students as they prepare for and enter higher education, as they progress on the course through to successful graduation, and then as they journey onwards to further study or employment. It also means thinking about the transition points in a learner’s journey into and through their studies, and having strategies in place that support students at these points.
This may mean strengthening the links between different departments/strategies within your institution – for example between your recruitment strategy, learning and teaching strategy, employability strategy, etc. Embedding access, student success and progression aims across the institution in this way will maximise the impact and effectiveness of your activities and investment. The Director of Fair Access to Higher Education has written personally to Vice-Chancellors and Principals today to highlight this aspect of the strategy.
To meet the challenge that the national strategy presents, and ensure that investment is targeted where it can have greatest impact, institutions need to ensure that their plans are based on sound evidence and evaluation. We therefore urge you to further develop the use of evidence and evaluation in your own access agreements, applying relevant findings from your work and others’ to improve the cost effectiveness, impact and reach of your access, student success and progression work. Chapter 4 of the national strategy sets out how OFFA and HEFCE will seek to ensure that institutions target investment in widening participation more effectively.
The national strategy brings together a wealth of research and evidence, and for ease of reference we have collated this online. The strategy also includes case studies of good practice from around the sector.
OFFA and HEFCE will be adding to the evidence base of effective practice in the sector over the coming months and years, including working with sector partners to assess whether national research could be more effectively co-ordinated. We will also be doing more to help you evaluate your work by establishing a national evaluation framework and working harder to identify and share good practice.
More effective collaboration and partnership at every level
The national strategy can only be achieved with the co-ordinated support of all partners, and it highlights the need for greater collaboration at every level. Where it is appropriate and mutually beneficial we therefore urge you to build on and strengthen collaborative arrangements, bringing benefits of scale and improving effectiveness, efficiency and value for money. The national strategy sets out plans to support you in this by establishing a new approach to collaborative outreach.
As well as collaboration between higher education providers, we want to see further collaboration with employers, third sector organisations, schools, training providers, local authorities and so on. Collaboration might also involve building on internal work within your institution between departments, or between administrative and academic staff.
Implications for the way we work with you
The national strategy sets out how OFFA and HEFCE plan to ensure that both organisations’ reporting and monitoring processes for access and student success are coherent and that our requests for information and data co-ordinate as far as possible and do not overlap. It also describes other ideas about how we might better challenge and support you to make progress in supporting access, student success and progression.
OFFA will set out how we will contribute to the aims of the national strategy in our forthcoming Strategic Plan 2014-2019, and we will notify you when this is published.
Should you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with your key contact at OFFA.
Office for Fair Access