Our approach to equality of opportunity

Evaluating our approach

We are asking the sector to increase the evaluation work they do, so it is important that we lead by example. We are evaluating the effectiveness of our reforms in reducing the risks to equality of opportunity.

Theory of change

We have developed a theory of change for the reforms. This is to set out a clear, overarching view of how we intend to achieve the long-term impact of improved equality of opportunity through regulatory activity and working with providers, and to form a foundation for robust strategy and evaluation.  

Diagram to show theory of change activities, outcomes and impact.
See this chart as a full page

This theory of change diagram summarises how the OfS anticipates its reformed approach to regulating equality of opportunity will lead to improved equality of opportunity for all students. It has been developed by the OfS as part of an internal evaluation of the reforms. The diagram describes the various regulatory activities involved in the reforms and the intended short, medium and long-term outcomes of the activities. It presents these outcomes in a series of ‘causal pathways’, which are linked steps that show how the OfS anticipates each activity will contribute to the intended impact of improved equality of opportunity.

The access and participation space within English higher education is complex, where various interconnected elements may influence the outcomes of policy changes, regulatory activity, and providers’ activity. This theory of change acknowledges the potential influence of contextual factors such as other OfS regulatory activity and the wider economic context. However, its primary focus is on setting out the OfS’s reformed approach to regulating equality of opportunity in relation to providers’ access and participation plans.


For the first phase of this evaluation, we commissioned Shift Learning to hold telephone interviews with providers and stakeholders to reflect on the early implementation of our reforms. We have additionally considered feedback and learning from other data sources internal to the OfS, including submissions and feedback from students involved in access and participation plans, feedback directly from webinars and telephone surgeries, and initial analysis of the plans. 

See the Shift Learning wave 1 telephone interview report Read our blog on the launch of the next access and participation plans

We plan to continue the evaluation of the reforms over the next few years. This will enable us to understand the experience of providers throughout the implementation of the reforms and to explore the extent to which the reforms have contributed to improved equality of opportunity in English higher education. Please keep an eye out on this page for future updates and findings on our evaluation of our new approach to equality of opportunity. 

Glossary of terms

OfS = Office for Students 

APP = Access and participation plan 

EORR = Equality of Opportunity Risk Register 

TEF = Teaching Excellence Framework 

Published 23 October 2020
Last updated 07 December 2023
07 December 2023
Updated to reflect new evaluation process
29 March 2023
Page refreshed in line with our new approach to equality of opportunity
11 March 2021
Page updated to reflect the second part of the evaluation.

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