Efforts to increase the participation in higher education of disadvantaged groups across East and West Sussex and Brighton & Hove has received a major boost with confirmation that the Sussex Learning Network has been successful in its bid for a share of a new £60 million per year programme.

The National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP) will launch on 24 January 2017 with the aim of driving a step change in the progression into higher education of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, including members of ethnic minority groups and young men. The programme, which is funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), will particularly focus on delivering activities which builds upon and boosts outreach in schools and local communities, as well as developing innovative ways to meet specific challenges in areas where participation in higher education tends to be low.

The Sussex Learning Network has been operating for over 10 years and brings together the combined expertise of the Universities of Brighton, Sussex and Chichester together with many of the local Further Education colleges, local councils, careers services and training providers across the region in a strategic partnership.

The Network’s successful bid, which is worth almost £8 million over the next four years, will focus on developing clear and appropriately supported pathways through various educational routes to relevant forms of higher level study aligned to local need and future demand.

Welcoming the announcement, Sarah Williams, Director of the Sussex Learning Network said: “This is fantastic news. Despite being fairly prosperous overall the coastal and rural nature of the region means there are several pockets of deprivation and sectors with low skills levels. When combined with other factors this means that we see lower than expected progression into higher education in some areas and amongst certain groups.

“This funding means that we can build on the considerable expertise and experience of our local universities, FE colleges and other partners to develop supported programmes that will have a real impact on raising aspirations and open up higher education opportunities to many who are currently missing out.”

A large-scale evaluation programme will measure the impact of the programme from the start, and will build a powerful evidence base to ensure the investment is concentrated on effective activity.

Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson said: “We are seeing record numbers of disadvantaged young people going to university and benefiting from the real opportunities that our world class universities can offer.

“This funding and the schemes that have been developed by universities will make a real difference to young people in key areas. In addition to this, we are legislating for a new transparency duty which will place a clear requirement on all universities to release more information about their admissions process and real incentives on all institutions to go further and faster to promote social mobility.”

HEFCE Director of Policy Chris Millward said: “NCOP represents a significant investment by HEFCE in improving the life chances of young people in some of our most disadvantaged communities. Our evidence has shown that there are young people in these areas who are achieving the qualifications they need to benefit from higher education, but are not currently doing so. The programme will ensure that they are better equipped to make the right choice for them by exposing the range of higher education options available and the careers they make possible.”

For further information please contact Sarah Williams, Director of the Sussex Learning Network at s.williams@sussexlearningnetwork.org.uk