The National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP) was developed in 2016 by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) – since merged to the Office for Students (OfS). This was in response to the Government’s ambition to double the proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds entering Higher Education (HE) by 2020. The programme also aims to increase by 20% the number of young people from ethnic minority groups entering HE and to address the under-representation of young white men from disadvantaged backgrounds accessing HE.

The NCOP is a four-year programme, which will run in calendar years from January 2017 to December 2020. Consortia are required to target disadvantaged students in Years 9 – 13 living in identified ward areas where progression into HE is lower than expected based on GCSE attainment figures. The overall aim of NCOP is to close the gap and increase the number of learners (by a third nationally), residing in these ward areas into higher education. The Sussex Learning Network (SLN) is one of 29 successful consortia funded to support intensive outreach across the whole of Sussex and is a collaborative partnership consisting of:

  • HE providers
  • Schools
  • Colleges
  • Independent training providers
  • Local Authorities
  • Other organisations such as employers, third sector bodies and local enterprise partnerships.

In terms of the region we are operating within as a consortium, we reach across three Local Authorities; East Sussex, West Sussex and Brighton & Hove, which are characterised by large urban areas along the coast with a hinterland of small towns, villages and rural pockets.

East Sussex has the highest levels of deprivation of all the counties in the South East, with the most significant levels of deprivation concentrated in coastal towns; Hastings being the most deprived local authority area in the region. Brighton & Hove also has high levels of deprivation in a number of neighbourhoods including East Brighton and Mouslecoomb and West Sussex experiences high deprivation across a number of its wards, including Tilgate and Selsey.

There are a number of complex reasons across the region which contribute to lower than expected progression into HE including, but not limited to:

  1. The rural and coastal demographic of the region with poor transport infrastructure that creates physical barriers in accessing to HE providers, as well as being linked to low-level skills sectors within the region such as Agricultural, Travel & tourism and Health & Social Care
  2. A wealth divide in Sussex with affluence and pockets of deprivations; lower aspirational attitudes and financial barriers affecting social mobility
  3. Generational employment in low-level skills sectors (as stated above)
  4. Inconsistent access to CEIAG
  5. Poorer outcomes at 16 and 19, especially in the HE cold spots
  6. Lower level skills base in the adult/parent/carer population which affects young people’s attainment, ambition and provides no HE tradition or role models.
  7. Expectation of the family for young people to enter the workplace earlier to support family incomes.

Through NCOP funding, the consortium will seek to:

  • Gain a better understanding of vulnerable groups and the barriers that they face in accessing, and remaining in higher level learning
  • Provide a flexible and responsive offer, which can be tailored and offer a broad-range of activities dependent on learner need, and their families/carers/communities to enable progression into Level 4+ learning
  • Offer a mixed methodology of delivery of outreach and study, with some taking place online, at school, in the community, at FE/HE, in a work environment
  • Support attainment raising and skills development in young people to support and enable
  • Provide access to funds to overcome practical barriers, such as transport and subsistence
  • Develop sustained and progressive programmes which can reach out to young people and
    support their journey through education
  • Monitor and evaluate what is meaningful and effective through impact research

The SLN:COP is currently funded until December 2018.

You can find out more about some of the projects we are running here