Regulator opens consultations on funding and outlines new plans to improve outreach to disadvantaged students

Universities and colleges have been invited to give their views on a number of proposed changes to how the Office for Students (OfS) allocates funding. The OfS has also published its next steps on how it will fund outreach to improve equality of opportunity in higher education.

The new outreach plans were confirmed following a consultation on the future of Uni Connect – a programme consisting of 29 partnerships which work locally to tackle the barriers to progressing into university or college.

Funding consultations

Distributing funding is an important part of the OfS’s regulatory work. This year, the OfS will distribute over £1.4 billion to help ensure that high-quality, cost-effective higher education is available to students across the country.  

Two separate consultations have been published today. The majority of funding – £1.3 billion – is made through recurrent grants. This includes money for high-cost subjects, premiums to support disadvantaged students and funding for specialist institutions.

In developing its proposals for allocating recurrent funding in the year ahead, the OfS is seeking to meet three main priorities through its allocations:

  • to protect, and if possible enhance, the rate of funding for high-cost subjects particularly where these support science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects and healthcare disciplines
  • to enhance the total funding targeted at specialist providers
  • to protect as far as possible the total funding to support access and student success.

See the recurrent funding proposals in full.

The OfS also distributes £150 million in capital funding of which £130 million is subject to consultation. Capital allocations are provided to enhance the learning experience of higher education students, by helping raise the quality of their learning and teaching facilities. For example, universities and colleges might use their grants to invest in high-quality buildings, equipment or information technology and e-learning.

The OfS proposes to distribute capital funding for financial year 2021-22 through a new bidding process.

See the capital funding proposals in full.

Statutory guidance received from the Secretary of State for Education on 19 January 2021 announced the total funding available to the OfS for distribution in the upcoming financial year, as well as the government’s funding policies and priorities. The OfS will make final decisions about the approach to funding having regard to government guidance, responses to these consultations and its other general duties. On 25 March the Secretary of State placed a condition of grant on the OfS regarding increased funding for world-leading specialist providers.

Uni Connect

Consultation outcomes published today set out the OfS’s renewed commitment to the Uni Connect programme, through which universities and colleges work together to create pathways for underrepresented students to access higher education.

After careful consideration of more than 350 consultation responses from Uni Connect partnerships, schools, universities, colleges and other organisations, the OfS has decided to:

  • support the programme until the end of the academic year 2024-25, subject to annual funding allocations
  • help teachers and advisers to access the higher education outreach in their area by signposting to local provision and filling gaps in provision
  • give a stronger role to further education colleges within the partnerships and more focus to adult learners.

The proposals seek to strengthen work with adults and support different routes into higher education – including studying higher level apprenticeships and level 4 and 5 technical education. Most respondents (88.2 per cent) agreed with the proposed approach.

In addition to the analysis of the consultation’s responses, two new independent reports evaluating the impact of the second phase of the programme on learners have been published.

A survey of school and college staff carried out by Ipsos MORI found that participants were highly positive about their experiences with Uni Connect, citing a wide range of benefits, such as:

  • high-quality outreach activities which supported continued engagement and was tailored to their needs
  • increased levels of confidence among learners to make informed choices and an improved understanding of their higher education options
  • targeted outreach which contributed towards the Gatsby benchmarks – the careers guidance framework expected to be met by secondary schools and colleges
  • access to expert knowledge, financial support and additional resources.

Meanwhile, the evaluation conducted by CFE Research indicated that sustained, progressive and targeted engagement with learners from particular schools and places helped them to improve their knowledge of higher education and its benefits.


  1. The consultation on the OfS’s approach to the third phase of the Uni Connect programme ran from 15 December 2020 to 19 January 2021.
  2. Decisions on the level of funding that will be made available to support Uni Connect during 2021-22 will be taken by the OfS later this year, subject to the outcome of the current consultation on the approach to recurrent funding.
  3. The OfS intends to consult later in 2021 on whether an area-based approach to targeted outreach is maintained, or whether it is replaced with a focus on high-priority schools and colleges from 2022-23 onwards.
  4. Read the formative evaluation survey of school and colleges, Uni Connect phase two conducted by Ipsos MORI.
  5. Read the independent evaluation report led by CFE Research.
Published 26 March 2021

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