A new OfS consultation proposes a more targeted approach to higher education collaborative outreach with a greater focus on further education and mature learners.
Uni Connect is an important part of the Office for Students’ (OfS’s) strategy to deliver equality of opportunity in higher education. Through a network of 29 local partnerships, Uni Connect provides a bridge between schools, colleges and universities.
It helps students from backgrounds underrepresented in higher education understand what career options are open to them and the different education and training routes available to get there.
This has been especially important during the pandemic as schools and colleges are understandably focused on supporting young people’s wellbeing, progress and attainment.
What Uni Connect does
The programme offers impartial information, advice and guidance (IAG) and higher education outreach to learners from underrepresented groups.
It provides a single point of contact for schools and colleges to find out what education opportunities and career pathways are available locally and nationally. It helps ensure that both young and mature underrepresented students can access higher education that is right for them and gives them the skills that will lead to employment and economic growth.
In 2018-19, the most recent year for which we have published data, over 180,000 target learners from more than 1,600 schools and colleges took part in Uni Connect outreach activities including one to one mentoring, subject area master classes and campus visits led by student ambassadors.
Quotes from Uni Connect learners
'When I was at the start of year 10, I wasn’t thinking about what I would do after school, but I found the workshops and talks I attended really started to get me thinking about higher education and about how the costs and finance work.' Next Steps South West
'I was unsure if higher education would be for me. I didn’t think the workload would be manageable, I didn’t think I could learn how to reference, and didn’t think I would have much of a social life... When completing some of the challenging activities I realised I can achieve anything if I keep going and don’t put barriers in my way.' Future me partnership
'The activities I have been involved in have encouraged me to work hard and have helped me to know I want to go to university, they’ve reinforced my decision that university is for me. They have helped me to choose what A-levels I want to do and they’ve helped me to make the decision that I want to stay on at sixth form.' Greater Manchester Higher
'No one in my close family has been to university and so I hadn’t thought much about it… The Summer School I went on had a big impact on me – I found out so much about university and all the different courses you can study. We had university students working with us – they were helpful and talked to us about student life, why they decided to go and what studying their subjects is like.' Aspire Higher
The partnerships have proved to be agile and flexible in response to the pandemic, rapidly moving their activity online and working to address digital poverty. This has allowed them to continue to support the young people they had been working with before the pandemic, and, in some cases, increase the number of learners they were able to reach.
Growing evidence base
Alongside the consultation on the future of the programme, we have also published an independent review of partnerships’ evaluation evidence. The report highlights the programme’s approach to planned and sustained engagement through multiple activities as more likely to deliver positive learner outcomes than one-off interventions.
The review helps us understand more about which particular activities are effective in achieving changes in different areas of learners’ knowledge, attitudes and intentions towards higher education.
Higher education has an important role to play in addressing both economic and societal needs as the country emerges from the coronavirus pandemic. Locally, universities and colleges will be critical partners, working with employers, local enterprise partnerships and others to ensure the needs of local communities and economies are met.
- To make sure that we focus on the young people who will benefit most from the support Uni Connect provides, the consultation sets out a new approach to programme targeting through identifying the highest priority schools and colleges.
- The consultation also outlines how we intend to give greater focus to a broad range of routes through and into higher education, including following technical pathways and through further education.
- We also propose a stronger focus on engaging mature students who are more likely to enter higher education with non-traditional qualifications.
We want to hear from universities, colleges, Uni Connect partnerships, schools and other stakeholders to help inform our future approach.Read and respond to the consultation