Aimhigher Plus: The impact of regional partnership and collaboration

Understanding the impact and effectiveness of the Aim Higher Plus partnership relations and how these contribute to the successful roll-out of the Aimhigher Plus programme.

Students listening in a lesson


Professor Rob SmithDr Amanda French and Dr Julia Everitt

Research background

The Aimhigher West Midlands Partnership

The Uni Connect programme in the West Midlands is run by Aimhigher West Midlands and has been funded by its university members since 2009. Uni Connect is available to students in year 9 to year 13 who live in specific postcode areas. It has a strong reputation across the region for providing quality, impartial information, advice and guidance.

Aimhigher West Midlands is a partnership of universities in the West Midlands, working to support learners to make informed decisions about their future. The Aimhigher Plus initiative builds on this and by bringing colleges into the partnership aims to strengthen the drive to widen participation in higher education in the region. The programme specifically targets schools and students who come from backgrounds that are under-represented on HE courses: hence there is a focus on white students from working class and low-income backgrounds and students from different minoritised ethnic groups. Originally, Uni Connect’ s main goal was to increase the progression to HE of underrepresented learners. However, as of August 2022, raising attainment has become one of their priorities as well.

This research gathered evidence and built understanding about the impact and effectiveness of the Aim Higher Plus partnership relations and how these contribute to the successful roll-out of the Aimhigher Plus programme. It complements existing Aimhigher West Midlands evaluations by adding detailed qualitative data from the two front-line levels of staff within each partner institution and across the partnership. While research to date has focused on qualitative and quantitative evidence of impact, this project, while further enriching narrative accounts from participants by using qualitative data, will focus primarily on the effects of the organisational culture fostered within the partnership by the ‘Aimhigher Plus’ programme.

This research project sought to address a gap in knowledge related to the effectiveness of governance, partnership membership and collaborative working practices of the existing Aimhigher Plus programme. Consequently, it focused on operational issues, such as the effectiveness of project roles and structures (as, at institutional level these differ from each other), partnership membership and the benefits of these in terms of impact.

Research aims

The research asked :

  • How the Aimhigher Plus partnership work?
  • How does work within the partnership contribute to its impact?
  • These questions were complemented by a number of underpinning sub-questions:
  • What are the challenges faced by HEI provider partners in the partnership?
  • How have these been addressed / overcome?
  • What have been the successes of Aim Higher Plus?
  • What are the ingredients that lead to these successes

Research methods

The ‘Aimhigher Plus’ strand of the Uni Connect in the West Midlands operates through a hub-and-spoke model. Radiating from the ‘local hub’ at the University of Birmingham are the spokes to the different aforementioned universities; UoB also is a spoke in its own right. The spokes are then staffed with account managers (AMs) working across regional areas; in urban areas there are then Aimhigher Progression Ambassadors (APAs) in different schools and in rural areas Graduate Ambassadors (GAs). These two ‘chalk-face’ roles are similar but function differently to meet the needs of target learners which will be discussed in the next section.

Two focus groups were conducted cutting across the partnership with staff members from both of the group outlined above.

There were some APA/GAs and Account Managers who were unable to attend the focus groups, so we invited them to complete an online survey which included the same questions that were asked in the focus group and provided free text response options. Response to the survey was limited, however, they did allow for additional comments from a further two individuals, one partnership director and one APA/GA which are included in the main data set.

Project outcomes

The aim was to produce an independent report.


Funder: Uni Connect West Midlands
Total grant: £10,000
Funding period: 6 months