Sustained outreach makes the difference

Chris Millward discusses the impact that the National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP) is having, and looks at the next steps for the programme.

NCOP summer school

It has long been suggested that access to higher education by students in the most disadvantaged areas would improve if we could raise their aspirations and ambitions. 

Having met with many students from these areas during the last two years, I am clear that they and their parents, carers and teachers already have high ambitions for their futures.  

But they are also clear sighted about the financial, academic and cultural barriers to progressing into higher education. 

It needs sustained engagement, embedded within schools, to open opportunities and provide a clear route into higher education. 

Closing the gap

Through the reforms we are making to access regulation this year, the OfS is giving universities and colleges more time to deliver their strategies for reducing the gaps in access, student success and progression into work between the most and least advantaged students.

We are also investing in a further phase of collaborative outreach through the National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP) which will build on commitments made by individual universities and colleges through their access and participation plans by supporting them to work together. 

Since the launch of NCOP in 2017, over 660,000 young people between the ages of 13 and 18 have taken part in activities that provide information and support to progress into higher education.

For the past two years, NCOP has focused on areas of England where the number of young people going into higher education is low overall and where there is evidence that significant numbers of young people are not going to university despite having GCSE results predicting their ability to do so.

In the next phase, the programme is expanding to cover a wider range of state-funded schools and colleges outside of NCOP target areas. 

This recognises that there are many potential students from underrepresented groups outside low participation areas. It also recognises that we can increase efficiency and effectiveness of outreach carried out by individual colleges and universities if we support them to work with each other in more areas across the country.

Partnership work

Collaboration has helped deliver inspiring experiences like the award-winning Fast Trackers programme with Network Rail and Mott Macdonald. Here three NCOP partnerships, Higher Horizons +, Greater Manchester Higher and Future U, worked with Network Rail and Mott MacDonald to deliver a programme based on engineering.

FutureHY has been working with universities, councils and the SCiP Alliance to create a regional network to support some of the 3,000 plus school aged children from military families living in North Yorkshire. The network has developed a range of targeted activities for this specific group characterised as GCSE achievers not progressing to higher education.

There are early indications that attendance at college has increased for students participating in the NCOP programme, showing a real desire to progress to higher level study and beyond.

How do we measure success?

Today we’ve published an evaluation report of the first two years of NCOP and some of the headline findings from that work are:

  • Sustained and progressive outreach with multiple activities has a more positive impact on learners’ knowledge and attitude toward higher education than single or ad-hoc outreach activity.
  • NCOP supports and encourages collaboration and partnerships have worked collaboratively to deliver tailored impartial information advice and guidance to support young people in making informed choices about their future.
  • One to one mentoring improves knowledge and awareness of higher education and builds the confidence students need in accessing the right information for them and making the right choice for their post-18 education.

The success of the NCOP will ultimately be measured by the numbers of young people from the most disadvantaged areas going to university or college and onto successful employment.

These are long-term impacts and will take many years to realise, so it is imperative that other more short-term evidence is gathered to ensure partnerships are investing in programmes and activities that work. 

For this second phase of the programme, OfS has commissioned the University of Exeter’s Centre for Social Mobility to help partnerships generate evidence of the impact of their work in helping young people make informed choices for their future.

What next? 

To help partners increase their reach we carried out research to find out what teachers and parents knew about higher education outreach activities and what would influence them to support their pupils and children to take part.

Building on this insight, the OfS is launching a campaign in the new year aimed at young people, parents and teachers to explain what NCOP does and the benefits in getting involved with higher education outreach activities.

Partnerships will also be able to use the recently launched Discover Uni as a new resource to support learners who are interested in going into higher education and want to explore their options.

Through these shared platforms for supporting students locally and nationally, combined with increased expectations for universities to improve access to their own courses, we want every student to be able to reach the destination their talent and potential deserves.


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