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A headshot image of the author, Ant Sutcliffe

by Ant Sutcliffe

Associate Director of Higher Horizons (Part of the Uni Connect Programme)

posted on 11 Apr '21

A school and college guide to the Uni Connect Programme

What is the Uni Connect programme?

In 2017 I wrote for UniTasterDays about the launch of the (then) government’s latest effort to “improve social mobility” via the creation of the National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP). The aim was simple: double the amount of the most economically disadvantaged young people entering Higher Education by 2020. It seems like a lifetime ago now, given the political changes through two general elections, and a global pandemic.

I’d like to think, though, that all avid readers of this blog, who had not heard of NCOP in 2017, now have heard of us (or ‘Uni Connect’, as we have recently been re-branded). I’d also like to think that, like many teaching colleagues across our region, the first thoughts you may have are ones of good, solid, reliable provision; creating straight forward pathways for our working class students as they navigate ‘what next?’

Continued progress and collaboration

The 29 Office for Students funded English partnerships, made up of your local universities and colleges, have certainly made excellent progress. Well over 600,000 13-19 year olds have engaged with the programme since I penned my 2017 piece. Over half a million of those young people are entered onto tracking systems so we can monitor what they have engaged with and see what their ultimate educational destination is. Many are choosing higher education. Something, UCAS statistics suggest, would not have been their route without the Uni Connect interventions. In fact, at Keele University, our local lead institution, the proportion of students from postcode areas with the lowest rates of young people going on to university have risen from 12% in 2014 to 20.1% in 2019. We are on the right track, for sure.

Uni Connect teams, along with teaching and school staff are now - through deep evaluation and monitoring - starting to get a real grasp on ‘what works’. The days of one-off careers and higher education fairs are behind us. We now know that sustained and multiple touch point interventions over the years - relationship building and barrier breaking - will see more of our young people going into university or wider higher education. The evidence is there to see.

Covid-19 and communities

Like all educationalists, we were, and are, worried about the impact of COVID-19 on our hardest to reach communities and young people. From August 2019 until the first signs of COVID-19 and with pending school closures, Uni Connect had worked with 1,722 schools and colleges across England. When COVID-19 really hit us, activities, summer schools, video sessions (and even tik toks!) were moved online, with print-out packs left at schools and materials dropped at food-banks for those with little access to ICT at home. We were part of the national effort, standing with teachers to keep our young people engaged with education.

What is next for the Uni Connect programme?

As things return to some form of a new normal, we again turned attention to securing more funding to continue to support schools, colleges and communities who will need it most in the post COVID-19 world.

Although the programme has seen a national 33% funding cut for next academic year, the 29 partnership have been left with enough manoeuvrability to at least stick together and function. As we turn our attention to supporting our fantastic young - and now adult - learners through a changeable educational and vocational climate we must keep lobbying for more government support to ensure the levelling up agenda is more than a soundbite.

Would you like to find out more about Uni Connect, and what the programme can offer your school or college?
Please visit - where you can quickly find your local Uni Connect partnership as well.

Prefer to Listen?

Find out more about the Uni Guide programme in Episode 10 of the UniTasterDays Uni Guide Podcast. Featuring Ant's colleague, Dr Hannah Merry from Higher Horizons in the expert seat.

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