‘Stronger together’ – this is the ethos which has united Greater Manchester’s recent focus on sustainable economic growth and reform to public services.
Naturally, the region can claim to have plenty going for it, economically and culturally. But it is also divided, not least over the opportunities available to individuals from different backgrounds, social and ethnic groups.
So the same spirit of cooperation needs to underpin the approach to outreach and widening participation for universities and colleges in the region. This requires coordination. It also depends on a strong understanding of the local context.
Enter Greater Manchester Higher – one of the HEFCE-funded National Networks for Collaborative Outreach. The network helps the region’s universities and colleges work together on their outreach activities. It does so in three main ways:
1. Information, advice and guidance
The local school system mainly consists of 11-16 providers and large 16-19 providers. Approximately 70 per cent of learners change institution at 16.
The city aims to make sure that all young people participate in education until they are 18. A key idea of this strategy is ‘getting it right first time’. Which means students need to make the right choices. And to make the right choices they need effective information, advice and guidance during Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 4.
In 2015-16, Greater Manchester Higher held 378 collaborative events. All focused on providing impartial information, advice and guidance to help young people make decisions about their future. They engaged 150 local schools, and worked with over 12,000 learners.
2. Reducing outreach cold spots
Greater Manchester’s higher education progression rates and GCSE results are in line with the national average. But there are still clear inequalities, especially for learners on free school meals. The percentages of learners who receive free school meals is above the national and regional average for most of the ten local authorities in the Greater Manchester region.
So we mapped out 40 schools which had not received any outreach activity in 2014-15. Twenty-one of these schools have a high number of learners who receive free school meals and/or come from low-participation neighbourhoods. This means they qualify as a high priority for widening participation activity.
In response we have focused our resources on building relationships with schools and increasing the capacity to deliver across the region. In particular, it has been crucial to work closely with colleagues in the local authority so that we can build relationships with the schools which are hardest to reach.
Through the work of the network, in 2015-16, the number of schools which have not received any outreach activity has fallen to 14, and only five still meet the high-priority criteria.
3. Contributing to regional skills
Greater Manchester has the largest economy of any city outside London. But it is unequal. We see deep differences over opportunities and outcomes in education, employment and health, and between different ethnic, demographic and social groups.
The region expects to see a net gain in new jobs of 110,000 by 2024. Forty five per cent of them will require qualifications at level 4 or above. So developing higher-level skills is a key economic priority under the devolution agreement.
To this end, Greater Manchester Higher has worked closely with local authorities, local organising bodies (the Commission for the New Economy, Greater Manchester Combined Authority and the Local Enterprise Partnership) and other local partners. It’s now an integral part of the wider skills landscape.
In total, 86 per cent of learners who attended a campus visit run by Greater Manchester Higher in 2015-16 said that they were more likely to go to university. Of these learners, 90.5 per cent now have a better idea how to get there.