Image of a teacher completing Uni Connect paperwork

 by James Elliott and Katie Coombe-Boxall
, posted On 21 Mar '22
 Higher Horizons: Data and Research Manager (Katie) and Evaluation and Evidence Manager (James)

Admin, evaluation and targeting – be kind to your outreach practitioner

The Uni Connect programme is a national outreach initiative that supports young people who are likely to achieve the grades needed for higher education but are unlikely to go. To justify spending, it considers ‘what works’ – this means tracking learners to see where they end up, and evaluating activities to assess their impact.

Our unique ways of working can be seen as inconvenient and demanding. We hear you! But let us explain...

Awful admin

Tracking the learners we work with means collecting data about them. This isn’t as scary as it sounds – put simply, we want to see if our activities influence their future educational decisions.

We request registers of attendance because we need proof of our work; and learners and parents are asked about their background when we add them to tracking databases.

We understand that this causes sleepless nights for your school data protection lead, but each Uni Connect partnership has its own data protection lead too, trained in the latest data policy and legislation, backed up by a university Data Protection Officer. Our data requests are not opportunistic or ad hoc; we have got your back.

Tedious targeting

Then there’s the mean targeting. We want to widen participation, don’t we? Why not do it for everyone? Well, because resources are few we prioritise.

More importantly, we have been charged with narrowing the gap between the most and least privileged entering higher education. It would be far meaner of us to help those who don’t need it over the wall, while just teasing those at the bottom of the ladder with a few rungs.

‘Widening’ Participation is the name of the sector, but ‘narrowing’ the gap is the name of the game. This is why we target.

Endless evaluation

And then we are constantly asking Johnny how he feels about each activity and about higher education. We need to show that activities meet a standard, and have ‘impact’ with learners undergoing ‘shifts’ in their attitudes towards higher education.

‘What works’ must be tested and replicated. Outreach is not always about converting forlorn youth from a state of Dickensian despair to that of climbing every aspirational mountain; it is more nuanced, and we need data to understand it fully. Besides ‘conversion’, it is about consolidation – ensuring that those interested in higher education are not lost to the forces of disillusion and misinformation; and about contemplation - getting young people to consider higher education and scrutinise their futures.

In short

Your outreach practitioner only asks of you what is being demanded of them. We know that our requirements place a burden on you but be kind to your outreach practitioner; if they can’t track the learners they engage and evaluate the impact of activities, the days of impartial university outreach are numbered.

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