The Office for Fair Access (OFFA) has launched a major programme of work that will support universities and colleges in improving how they evaluate the impact of their outreach schemes [note 1].

OFFA will support multiple projects that, in collaboration with universities, examine the most effective methods of measuring and analysing the impact of outreach targeted at various learner groups. Practical evaluation tools will be developed for all universities and colleges to use if they wish.

This will support universities and colleges in evaluating more robustly, so they can ensure that the substantial investment [note 2] of money and effort that they make in outreach is strategic and directed towards the activities that are likely to have the greatest impact.

As such this programme of work is a key aspect of how OFFA challenges and supports universities and colleges to take an increasingly strategic approach to their access agreements.

OFFA has published an invitation to tender for the first project today at, which seeks researchers to work in collaboration with universities over the next 12 months or more. This project, a partnership with the Sutton Trust, will focus on outreach for young people who are the first in their families to apply to university.

Professor Les Ebdon, Director of Fair Access to Higher Education, said:

“I have challenged universities and colleges to evaluate their work robustly and consistently because that will help them to make further, faster progress in improving access [note 3].

“Evaluation is key to squeezing maximum impact from every pound and every hour invested in widening participation. This is why OFFA has been so keen to understand the impact of financial support [note 4]. I am pleased that we are now able to continue to support the sector in meeting this challenge by launching this new programme of work.

“It will help everyone working to widen participation to learn more about what is likely to be most effective in their context. That improved understanding will help universities and colleges increasingly use evidence-led approaches to delivering impact through their access agreements.

“The projects will be institution-led and collaborative, which is OFFA’s preferred way of supporting research. I am very pleased that we are partnering with the Sutton Trust for the first project and look forward to forming similar partnerships with other organisations for future work.”

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust and of the Education Endowment Foundation, said today:

“Universities are under considerable pressure to get more disadvantaged young people into higher education but there is a severe lack of evidence [note 5] about the factors that make some approaches work better than others. With the access gap at our most selective universities still far too wide, the new research will help give us a much clearer picture of what works best.”


  1. ‘Outreach’ is activity that helps to raise awareness, aspirations and attainment among people from disadvantaged backgrounds, e.g. summer schools that give a taste of university life, homework clubs for pupils who may not have anywhere to study at home, or universities forming and sustaining links with employers and communities.
  2. In 2016-17 access agreements, expenditure directed at outreach totalled £136.1 million, accounting for over 20 per cent of all access agreement expenditure.
  3. OFFA is currently assessing access agreements for 2017-18. The strategic guidance for these access agreements ( asked universities and colleges to take account of the latest evidence and consider how they could focus their investment more strongly on activities that have the greatest impact.
  4. OFFA is currently working with institutions on a research project that aims to improve the evidence around the impact of financial support and support institutions in improving evaluation of financial support. The findings so far are available at
  5. Research published by the Sutton Trust in December 2015 ( found that despite English universities investing £124 million in 2015-16 in increasing the number of disadvantaged students they enrol, there is too little robust evidence available to tell them what is most effective.
  6. The Office for Fair Access (OFFA) is an independent, non-departmental public body established under the Higher Education Act 2004 to help promote and safeguard fair access to higher education for people from under-represented groups. All English universities and colleges must make plans to promote and sustain fair access, in order to charge higher fees. These plans will include outreach (e.g. summer schools, mentoring, after-school tuition, links with schools and colleges in disadvantaged areas), activities to improve retention and success, and financial support such as bursaries and scholarships. The plans must be agreed with OFFA, which then monitors their implementation. For more information see
  7. The Sutton Trust is a foundation set up in 1997, dedicated to improving social mobility through education. It has published over 170 research studies and funded and evaluated programmes that have helped hundreds of thousands of young people of all ages, from early years through to access to the professions.

Media enquiries

If you're a journalist with a question about our work, get in touch with Hilary or Ruby. If it's out of office hours, you can call or text 07917 462 164.

E: [email protected] T: 020 7802 1660

Keep up to date with the latest news