Sussex Learning Network's work is funded through a combination of partner contributions and external project funding. Since it was set up in 2015, SLN has brought in over £9 million in funding. Currently, our main funder is Uni Connect.

Launched in January 2020 and funded by the government’s Office for Students, the Uni Connect Programme is a national initiative helping teachers and careers advisors to encourage young people to take advantage of higher education opportunities. It aims to boost HE participation rates among the least represented groups of young people.

Uni Connect consists of 29 partnerships of universities, state-funded schools, colleges, and local authorities, charities and enterprise partnerships across England. It builds on and extends the work of the National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP) which SLN has been delivering since 2017, reaching some 10,000 young people across Sussex. Our well-established SLN:COP programme continues to run across the region but is now rebranded under the Uni Connect banner.

Uni Connect supports the government’s Gatsby Benchmarks for career guidance. Through a tailored, impartial approach that includes outreach activities and advice and information on the benefits and realities of going to university or college, Uni Connect helps schools support Years 9 to 13 students and their parents/carers to get a better understanding of their future options.

Uni Connect’s overall aims are to:

  • reduce the gap in HE participation between the most and least represented groups​ through sustained and progressive outreach programmes
  • support young people to make well-informed decisions about their future education​
  • encourage effective, impactful local collaborations by providers working together with schools, colleges, employers and other partners
  • develop a sustainable infrastructure for future outreach and collaboration
  • contribute to a stronger evidence base around ‘what works’ in higher education outreach and strengthen evaluation practice in the sector.

Phase 1 of Uni Connect started in January 2017 and ran until July 2019. Partnerships focused their work on local areas where higher education participation is lower than might be expected given the GCSE results of the young people who live there. You can read more about Phase 1 in this SLN: COP summary document and Year 1 and Year 2 OfS NCOP reports. 

Phase 2 started in August 2019 and runs until July 2021. Building on Phase 1, it supports two main strands of activity. Firstly, providing targeted HE outreach in local areas where it can have the most impact (the same areas targeted under Phase 1); SLN currently works across 39 wards in Sussex. Secondly, creating outreach hubs in every local authority in England to help schools and colleges access the HE outreach they need and provide a platform for wider collaboration.

Uni Connect has allowed us to extend our reach, developing new collaborative programmes that will help even more young people access outreach activities as well as supporting education practitioners by signposting existing opportunities. 

For details of how SLN uses and collects data for NCOP (now Uni Connect), click here.

How the funding is used

SLN is not a primary funder with open funds. Our current projects are publicly funded and delivered through our partnerships. We run a wealth of projects that aim to:

  • tackle the practical and emotional barriers to progression
  • offer careers and information advice and guidance
  • provide flexible, responsive support and a wide range of activities for young people and their families
  • support attainment-raising and skills development in young people
  • offer industry-specific programmes
  • commission research to provide an evidence base
  • monitor and evaluate what is meaningful and impactful
  • be sustainable and progressive.

Our Innovation Fund

In addition to supporting individual projects, we also encourage community groups to collaborate through initiatives like our Innovation Fund.

The Innovation Fund was set up in 2017 to develop new partnerships between educational and community organisations, and create innovative ways of engaging with our target wards across Sussex. Round 1, which ran from February to September 2018, invited applications focused on bringing together community knowledge and academic perspectives to support young people. We funded eight partnership projects: Beyond the School Gates; Care Leavers Reaching University; Growing STEM; LGBTQ Youth and Access to HE; Sussex Writes; Bounce Down Music Production and Refugee Background Students Moving Through HE.

In Round 2, we invited collaborative bids to deliver innovative outreach activities to support young people with their aspirations, confidence and barriers to HE, by harnessing local, more specialised community knowledge. This round ran between January and June 2019 and we funded seven projects: Me to You LGBTQ+; Tackling Poor Attendance; Young Carers Research Project; Supporting Children in Care and Care Leavers through a Forest School approach; Gypsy Roma and Travellers; Young People in Supported Accommodation; and Community and Family-Based Counselling.

Through working with community groups, the fund has enabled the SLN:COP to engage with harder-to-reach target groups who wouldn’t necessarily take part in activities or research within an educational setting.

For further information on the Innovation Fund, email Project Manager Debra Vice-Holt.

SLN:COP is governed by the University of Brighton’s data protection policy. For any queries on SLN:COP data use and GDPR, email Claire Walker, SLN Project Manager.

Other funding sources

Beyond funding Uni Connect, SLN has a database that we actively scan for funding opportunities for ourselves and our partners. 

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