University Tips Blog
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A headshot image of the author, Fiona Curry

by Fiona Curry

Strategic Lead, Access and Participation at the University of Cumbria

posted on 8 Dec '23

What works? Demonstrating impactful university engagement

In a previous blog post, Izzy Kelly touches upon evidenced interventions that demonstrate impact to university acceptance. For more information on impact evaluation and recommendations you can read the Fourth independent review of impact evaluation evidence submitted by Uni Connect partnerships.

In summary, sequential multi-interventions programmes over time, high-quality information, advice and guidance, people like me role-modelling to name a few – are all recommended based on findings of impact that they are likely to have on young people.

Universities are increasing their knowledge base through research each year, to understand what interventions are most impactful to young people. However, we still have much more to do.

Measuring impact- how?

Firstly, what impact are you trying to achieve?

Largely, universities are looking to increase participation to higher education either in general or more specifically to their own institutions. However, this is through the attitude and method of supporting students to make an informed decision that is right for them, which could mean an apprenticeship or taking some time after compulsory education to build skills and experience before progressing onto higher education.

Impact can be measured in a range of ways, including university applications and progression, increased attainment, higher attendance rates at school or college and increased confidence and self-efficacy.

Our regulators, the Office for Students, have incorporated the Theory of Change framework into our practice, to understand what each intervention’s impact is intended to be and how we can prove this rather than assume. In brief, it means questioning how we will know what success and impact looks like and how we will be able to measure it before starting an activity or intervention.


There’s been a move away from only ‘happy sheet’ questionnaire forms focusing on immediate feedback of an activity and learners’ perceptions and intentions as an impact measure, and a movement towards demand for empirical enquiry and causality. This means using control or comparison groups to prove a change with one group when given an intervention another group has not received.

Unchartered territory

While there is work taking place to establish evidence for favoured interventions such as mentoring and summer schools, what about activity that’s not been created yet? Thankfully, our regulator is also keen for universities to try new ways of engaging with students to increase university participation, if we evaluate and contribute to knowledge of what works? (And sometimes what doesn’t).

This means there is certainly scope for co- creating with you, through discussion and sharing ideas, new activity to best support your students. You will have your own context you are working in within your institution, and this will of course impact how interventions are received and what support your students need.

So, while you can start or continue with university engagement that exists already and has an evidence base, your insights and experiences are important and will help shape future interventions that are not listed on the website yet!

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