In the UK, there’s a sizeable disparity in the number of students progressing through to higher education by geographical location. While areas like Kensington and Chelsea have a near 100% progression rate for school leavers through to higher education, many others wards dip below the 20% mark.
To bridge this gulf, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) started the National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP). Since the discontinuation of HEFCE, the newly formed Office for Students (Ofs) has taken up the mantle and is now in charge of managing NCOP. But what is NCOP and how can it benefit students in the UK?
What Is the NCOP?
NCOP is partnership programme that connects universities with local schools that have low HE progression rates. The programme, beginning back in January 2017, aims to encourage universities to work with schools to deliver outreach programmes that show students what higher education is all about. The formation of the NCOP comes as a result of a government pledge to:
“Double the proportion of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in higher education by 2020; increase by 20 per cent the number of students in higher education from ethnic minority groups; [and] address the under-representation of young men from disadvantaged backgrounds in higher education.”
NCOP works by creating networks of HE providers that target students aged 13-18 in low HE progression areas with projects that involve student ambassadors, trips to HE providers and open days. One such partnership project is the Kent and Medway Progression Federation (KMPF), which consists of three universities and over 40 schools across Kent:
“Collaboratively, we [the KMPF] work to raise the aspirations and attainment of young people from challenging backgrounds who might not otherwise consider progression to higher education. The vast majority of young people with whom we work are from disadvantaged backgrounds or comprise first-generation higher education applicants, meaning they are the first in their immediate family to go to university.”
KMPF has been working with schools around Kent to deliver on specific, local goals by changing perspectives of students and their parents. Su Mortley, KMPF Progression Mentor, Maplestone Noakes School, spoke about the impacts that programme has already had on students from the school: “some students come here [Maplestone Noakes School], and there is no expectation at all from them or their families that they will go to universities, but by showing them university is a place they could enjoy, they go home and talk about it to mum and dad, and it opens doors that would never have been opened before.”
Due to the scope of the project, it will, unfortunately, take some time to see if the £60-million-a-year project is worth the hefty price tag. Many of the targeted students will be below 18 and, therefore, not eligible for HE applications for several years. In a time when austerity is still in vogue, one may wonder how long NCOP has before it comes under government scrutiny.