New report shows increased evaluation of access agreement activities and programmes

A new report published today [Thursday 14 July] finds that universities and colleges are increasingly evaluating their fair access activities and programmes. However, the report, by the Office for Fair Access, shows that institutions have further to go to fully embed evaluation, ensuring that all money spent on fair access is directed where it is most effective.

The report, Access agreement monitoring for 2014-15: institutional evaluation and equality and diversity, which assesses evaluation of financial support and activities undertaken in 2014-15, shows that:

  • almost all institutions are evaluating their work, with 14 per cent of institutions reporting that they were at an advanced stage – with evaluation fully embedded into practice, while a further 51 per cent of institutions were actively evaluating their work and seeking to continue to improve how they evaluate. Evaluation was at an earlier stage at 30 per cent of institutions
  • those institutions that had embedded evaluation into practice were most likely to meet the high-level outcomes targets they set themselves through their access agreements
  • many institutions have used findings from evaluation to modify their activities and programmes.

Writing in the foreword of the report, Professor Les Ebdon, Director of Fair Access to Higher Education, said:

“Universities and colleges spent £725 million on activities and programmes to support fair access through their access agreements in 2014-15, so it is hugely important that they have a considered approach to evaluation to ensure their investment is having the greatest impact. The report shows that institutions are taking heed of OFFA’s guidance, recognising that evaluation is key to improved performance.

“An integral part of OFFA’s role continues to be to undertake, commission and facilitate research to help grow evidence around fair access. So, for example, we have been working in partnership with universities to develop a set of common measures for assessing the impact of the bursaries institutions offer through their access agreements. As I write, we are seeking tenders for a joint project with The Sutton Trust which is aiming to develop similar measures for the evaluation of outreach activities. The tools developed through this research will help improve evaluation across the sector in the long-term, allowing institutions to demonstrate the impact of their work and increase their focus on those activities which are most successful.    

“This report gives real cause for optimism, but there is still more to be done. By their own assessment, only a small proportion of institutions in 2014-15 were at an advanced stage in evaluating their activities; a significant minority had only just started evaluative work. In future monitoring rounds, I expect to see every institution devoting appropriate energy and resources into effective evaluation. Ensuring that activities have impact is crucial as we seek to meet the Government’s fair access goal to double the rate of disadvantaged students by 2020, compared to 2009 levels.

“We have seen through this monitoring process that those institutions with more developed and embedded evaluation activity generally report more progress against their high-level outcomes targets [note 2]. This is not a coincidence. I am encouraged by the many examples of good practice in the sector, but it is clear that, collectively, we must continue to up our game. Nobody should be put off going to university because of their background; by investing in activities that have real impact in helping people from disadvantaged backgrounds to enter and succeed in higher education, we can ensure they are not.”

ENDS

For further information contact Sean Beynon (Acting Head of Communications) on 07795 257374, or email press@offa.org.uk