To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment he has made of the potential effect of the reduction in funding to UniConnect for 2021-22 on access to higher education.
7 January 2022
The Uni Connect programme, operated by the Office for Students (OfS), is a 4 year investment programme established to support the creation of a strong and versatile network of local partnerships with cross-England coverage and aims to provide sustained outreach to young people in schools and colleges in areas with low or unexplained gaps in higher education (HE) participation.
The programme’s annual funding allocation is made within the available Strategic Priorities Grant, and as such is subject to annual review and decision making, with due regard for general duties, the Public Sector Equality Duty, and statutory guidance.
The former Secretary of State for Education, my right hon. Friend for South Staffordshire, wrote to the OfS on 19 January 2021, providing guidance under section 2(3) of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017. This set out the funding allocation for the 2021-22 financial year and the government’s priorities to ensure that more of taxpayers’ money is spent on supporting HE provision which aligns with national priorities, including targeting funds to support students and prioritise the most disadvantaged learners.
This guidance detailed that the OfS should reduce its allocation to Uni Connect from £60 million to £40 million, allowing it to continue to deliver and maintain its core infrastructure, with savings reallocated to fund support for student mental health and student hardship.
The OfS consulted with the sector on recurrent funding in March 2021 and sought views on reductions to the fundings levels of the Uni Connect programme. The outcomes of this consultation were published in July 2021 and are available to view here: https://www.officeforstudents.org.uk/publications/recurrent-funding-for-2021-22-outcomes-of-consultation/. The OfS’s consultation response concluded that the Uni Connect partnerships could continue to meet the OfS’s goals through a combination of increased efficiency and a focus on the most effective interventions and that they did not anticipate a reduction in the number of targeted learners.