Researchers from the University of Warwick are to lead a study into higher education outreach schemes.
Commissioned by the Office for Fair Access (OFFA), the study aims to improve understanding of the impact of outreach on access to higher education for students from disadvantaged groups and to improve evaluation practice across the sector.
Comprising researchers from the University of Warwick and the University of York, the team will set out the principles underlying ‘good’ evaluation and develop protocols designed to enable institutions to evaluate the effectiveness of their own outreach schemes. These will be informed by the diversity of current practice within the sector and will be suitable for use by all institutions and applicable irrespective of the current stage of development or implementation of their outreach schemes.
The team, led by Dr Claire Crawford of the University of Warwick’s Department of Economics, is a partnership between academic researchers and those involved directly in the development and delivery of outreach programmes, and will be supported by a number of partner organisations.
Discussing her hopes for the project, Dr Crawford said “Universities are spending a growing amount of time and resources trying to encourage more disadvantaged students to access higher education. But the evidence on whether these efforts have succeeded is woefully thin. This project offers an opportunity to better understand ‘what works’ in terms of outreach initiatives. Our hope is that by bringing together academics and practitioners from a range of institutions, the guidance we produce will be pragmatic and practical, but still underpinned by rigorous methods, giving institutions the tools to produce robust evaluations of their own outreach schemes in future.”
Professor Les Ebdon, Director of Fair Access to Higher Education, said: “I am delighted to appoint the University of Warwick to lead this research. This important project will help universities and colleges find out more about what’s working best in their own contexts, so they can focus on the activities that have the greatest impact and thus ensure that the investment of over £150 million they have committed in their latest access agreements is well spent.”
Dr Lee Elliot Major, Chief Executive of the Sutton Trust, said: “Universities are under more pressure than ever to recruit students from disadvantaged homes, yet the access gap remains stubbornly wide. A major weakness in universities’ efforts to widen access has been the lack of proper evaluation and evidence. This important piece of research by the University of Warwick will help give us a much clearer idea of which strategies work best when it comes to widening participation.”
The partner organisations involved in the project are drawn from across the sector and will help ensure that the protocols are applicable to all institutions. They include Aimhigher West Midlands, the Universities of Birmingham and Sheffield, Bournemouth University, Nottingham Trent University, Sheffield Hallam University and researchers from the Higher Education Access Tracker team.
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