The National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP) is an ambitious £60 million-a-year programme that aims to increase the number of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in higher education.
Through NCOP 29 consortia of universities, colleges and other partners are delivering collaborative outreach in specific local areas. The involvement of local authorities and local enterprise partnerships in many consortia reflects the place-based approach that is built into the design of the NCOP.
While the programme is national in scope, the individual consortia are focused on what is needed in their local area, co-designing approaches with local bodies, including schools and community organisations. By working collaboratively with partners across a local area, consortia seek to make the best use of NCOP resources to complement existing activity and build a platform for co-ordinated activity to support young people.
So what does a successful NCOP look like? Of course, success factors are about contributing to the Government’s goals around participation – but success is also about enabling people to make informed choices; the added value of collaboration; and the opportunity to assess robustly what makes effective and impactful outreach.
It is too early for us to see whether NCOP is delivering an increase in numbers going into higher education, but we can see that it is on track to engage with sufficient numbers of learners to have an impact in time.
The activities undertaken as a part of NCOP are ramping up and are as varied as one might expect. Consortia have worked closely with local agencies, schools and young people to understand what will be most effective. In many instances these areas of focus have built on research by local enterprise partnerships to identify growth areas and skills gaps.
A successful NCOP is also one that provides clear and robust evidence of the impact of various types of intervention in widening participation in higher education.
Consortia are undertaking their own evaluations to ensure they meet their local objectives. At a national level we are evaluating the programme through a mixed methods approach using the highest government standards for evaluation.
Our evaluation consultancy, CFE Research, has designed a national evaluation framework and associated indicator bank and is working with consortia to develop exciting plans for a range of randomised control trials to explore which activities and approaches ‘work’ and in what circumstances.
Finally, we believe a successful NCOP will demonstrate the potential value of the collaborative infrastructure we have developed to support local agency in the medium term. By bringing together local networks to increase participation in higher education we have created a platform to support and enhance many local, targeted and place-based activities.
For example, NCOP consortia are working closely where relevant with Department for Education Opportunity Area leads and the Careers and Enterprise Company to explore any potential local synergies between these programmes.
Through the NCOP we have challenged universities and colleges to take a place-based approach to higher education outreach. They have shown that they are rising to this challenge and working closely with a range of partners to equip young people from disadvantaged areas with the information and tools they need to make informed choices and realise their full potential.