On Monday, we held a conference to outline the broad range of work we are undertaking to maximise the outcomes of higher education for students, the economy and society. From my perspective, it was a great day and I hope that our invited speakers and delegates got as much from the day as we did.

We had a great mix of contributors with keynote speeches from our own Chief Executive, Madeleine Atkins, and the Vice-Chancellor of University of East London, Professor John Joughin. Between them, they provided the audience with an overview of the political, economic and strategic context of the work to support student success and maximise outcomes from both a national and institutional perspective.

Both highlighted the ‘unacceptable’ differences in outcomes for students from different groups (illustrated in the graph below), and Professor Joughin outlined some of the steps his institution was taking to try and address these disparities.

This covered programmes such as its Young Black Professionals Programme in which African-Caribbean doctoral candidates are trained as academic coaches, who then serve as mentors and role models to young black students at the start of their academic journey. The young mentees that go on to complete the programme are then offered a paid internship.

The university also provides a pro-bono law clinic to the local community with the dual benefits of providing a highly valued service to local people as well providing invaluable real-life learning opportunities for its students

Delegates then very gamely took part in our World Café session where they heard from Sarah Kerton from NUS, Professor Philippa Levy from the HE Academy, Suzanne Maskrey from Brightside Trust, Peter Chetwynd from Supporting Professionalism in Admissions, and Michelle Morgan from the Postgraduate Experience project at Kingston University (one of the Postgraduate Support Scheme projects).

All of these contributors discussed how their work was supporting student success in 10-minute blocks after which the delegate groups moved onto the next contributor. It was a bit of a squeeze, but the contributors and the delegates made the most of the session and it certainly generated discussion but, note to HEFCE, more space next time!

A well-earned lunch break for delegates was followed by  Leyla Bagherli, one of our analysts, taking us through the HEFCE maps showing participation cold spots, and also highlighted those areas where participation rates in HE are higher or lower than expected when taking into account GCSE attainment.

And then it was my turn to show how we were working within the strategic vision outlined by Madeleine and using the evidence generated by our analysts and other research to deliver our own policy priorities in terms of widening access, improving retention and student success, and supporting progression to postgraduate study and/or employment.

This included, in terms of widening access, an overview of the work done to deliver National Networks for Collaborative Outreach. For student success, it covered the critical review we have commissioned of research and practice to address differential outcomes as well as our review of provision and support for disabled students. In terms of progression, it covered our work in postgraduate education including the Postgraduate Support Scheme.

Underpinning this is our work to develop an outcomes framework through which we will try and more robustly evidence the impact of the work HE providers undertake in this area on outcomes for students, and more broadly for the economy and society.

The day was brought to close by contributions from three great panellists – Professor Sir Geoff Hampton, (Chief Executive of Educational Central Multi-Academy Trust, University of Wolverhampton), Rosie Tressler, (Networks and Projects Manager, Student Minds), and Dr Duna Sabri, (Visiting Research Fellow, King’s College London).

The panellists provided short presentations and then the session was opened up for questions and discussion on three key, priority areas:  universities’ engagement with schools and the different forms that this could take (as well as different levels of time and resource!); the different approaches that both institutions and students can, and are, employing to support students with mental health conditions, but also to more proactively promote good mental health; the work being undertaken to understand and address differences in degree, further study and employment outcomes for students from different groups.

All in all it was a fantastic day and thanks to everyone – our speakers and contributors, our delegates, and our organisers for making it such a success.