David Woolley“Given the millions spent, why haven’t we made faster progress on WP? This report goes some way to answering that question. The evidence on which interventions work, doesn’t exist.

This is especially true when it comes to the impact of outreach activities on enrolment rates for disadvantaged students. It’s time for the sector to take urgent action, and by collaborating with TASO, we can build the evidence base on effective practice and use it to guide future approaches. Ultimately, it will only be through evidence-based action that we will be able to make a meaningful difference to the lives of the most disadvantaged students.”

David Woolley, Chair of TASO Establishment Steering Group
Director of Student and Community Engagement at Nottingham Trent University

THEME WORKING GROUP 1: Effectiveness of Widening Participation Outreach

“This insightful report is the result of a rigorous independent review of the existing evidence focusing on the effectiveness of WP outreach. While the report uncovers numerous examples of encouraging evidence, it’s clear that there are still significant gaps in the research base. I think this reinforces the need for the sector to move beyond ‘hopeful interventions’ which we merely assume work to widen participation in higher education. We need to move towards a more robust, and, where appropriate, causal evidence base to determine what, why, for whom and under what conditions outreach interventions are shown to realise the educational aspirations of people from disadvantaged backgrounds. The evidence journey won’t be easy, and in some ways we may need to take a step back before moving forward. But alongside HEAT’s data analysis, EPI’s work has provided TASO’s Theme Working Group with a solid platform on which to debate priority themes for further research. As a result, EPI’s findings have played a crucial role in enhancing our understanding and determining TASO’s commissioning process.”

Mike Kerrigan, Chair of TASO’s Theme Working Group 1: Effectiveness of WP Outreach, Strategic Data & Intelligence Manager (Widening Participation & Student Success), Nottingham Trent University 

“I welcome the report as a serious attempt to explore the evidence base around widening access to higher education. Crucially, given the millions poured into participation activities by the National Collaborative Outreach Programmes (NCOPs) and by individual institutions, it is vital that the sector develops a better, more mature and more evidence-informed understanding of what works (and why). From my professional perspective it was frustrating (but not unexpected) to discover that progress on widening access has been modest. Indeed, scrutiny of 20 years of articles published in the journal Widening Participation and Lifelong Learning confirms current preoccupations around access to higher education (students from BME backgrounds, or from low socio-economic backgrounds, or care leavers, or ‘remote’ students) have been revisited regularly over the past two decades. Progress remains painfully slow. I hope TASO can encourage further research to identify what can be done to support groups the report found were ‘systematically overlooked’ – especially mature and part-time students, whose numbers have been declining rapidly and who need institutions to be more flexible in their approaches.”

Dr John Butcher SFHEA, Director, Access & Open, WELS/PVC Students 

Alice Dee“For me, the need for a joined-up approach to tracking students through their education is the most important recommendation from the EPI report. We need to demonstrate impact at key points of the student life-cycle, as well as on university placement, the reason we all do what we do! Hard work is being done across the WP sector to evaluate effectiveness, learning from peer practice is a vital next step. I welcome TASO’s approach to building an evidence base from which we can share what works. I hope it will better support all our efforts to achieve equal access to university.”

Alice Dee, Impact Manager, The Access Project  

“This comprehensive review really supports the sector and WP practitioners in building programmes which have impact on learners journey to progress to higher education.

As practitioners we tend to have a good idea of What works but the review adds to our understanding and provides an excellent grounding to continue to build programmes with evaluation at the heart, evidencing the impact of the interventions.”

Baljinder Rana, Manager, Aimhigher West Midlands 

“This report represents a comprehensive and important step toward the facilitation of a greater evidence base on which providers can draw upon, and a springboard from which an enhanced model of collaboration and shared knowledge can develop, supported by TASO and other national networks such as NERUPI.

At the University of York, we are excited to contribute to, and learn from the network of like-minded individuals and institutions who also place widening participation and equality at the core of their work.

Stuart Bottomley, Evidence and Evaluation Manager, University of York