Access Project Spotlight: Newcastle University’s PARTNERS Programme

25/11/2019 | News

Now in its 19th year, and one of the largest in the country, the University of Newcastle’s PARTNERS Programme offers a supported entry route into Newcastle University for under-represented student groups.  



What is the name of the project?
PARTNERS Programme supported entry route


Tell us more, describe the initiative 
This national Programme provides support and opportunities to young people throughout the application procedure and once they enter Newcastle University, recognising the additional support students from under-represented groups often need to perform as well as their peers across the whole student lifecycle.

Eligible students receive a reduced conditional offer up to three grades below standard entry requirements for all degree programmes. This offer includes successful completion of the PARTNERS Academic Summer School, designed by our leading academics to develop curriculum knowledge, alongside the subject and personal skills necessary for study and life at university.

A dedicated network of academic staff in each subject area develop and deliver lectures, seminars and practical sessions throughout the Academic Summer School. These take place over an intensive five day period and run alongside a programme of study, transition and employability-based skills sessions. Students complete assignments to receive valuable feedback providing the opportunity for reflective learning and to improve their skills and awareness of academic expectations before starting their university career. External Advisers highly commend this approach and ensure that the Programme quality is consistently high across all subject areas and a University-regulated Board of Studies for the PARTNERS Programme is held annually to ensure continuous improvement.


How is your initiative targeted?
The PARTNERS Programme is targeted nationally at Year 13 students who are currently under-represented in Higher Education. Eligibility criteria aligns with sector target groups set out by the Office for Students, where both national and institutional data trends evidence that these student groups are less likely to go to university than their peers.

Eligibility for the Programme, together with our targeting approach and impact analysis, is reviewed annually to ensure inclusivity and alignment with national policy, as well as taking into account local context. Currently we target students from low participation neighbourhoods (using POLAR data); areas of high deprivation; low income households; care-leavers; ethnic minority groups, students with difficult individual circumstances, and students from low-performing state schools and colleges. Students must meet our criteria and can check their eligibility online through the PARTNERS Programme website.

The University has developed excellent relationships with schools and colleges in the broader northern region and other target geographical areas, to deliver a progressive programme of meaningful engagement to support school and pupil needs prior to Year 13. We consult with teachers regularly to inform our outreach and school visits programme, to maximize engagement opportunities and to ensure we are meeting the changing needs of schools and colleges. In 2018/19, we delivered 821 visits to 462 schools or colleges and each of these have included key information about the PARTNERS Programme with 83 of these focused specifically on the scheme.

The PARTNERS Programme is also promoted through the range of University publications and online content. A PARTNERS student case study features in the University’s Undergraduate Guide and all PARTNERS entrance requirements are listed under the different subject areas on the University website. There is a dedicated PARTNERS website for teachers and potential applicants. Many of our ‘Unibuddy’ students, available for online chat, entered Newcastle University through PARTNERS and can share their experience of the scheme.


What are the measures of success? 
The University has internally-set targets for intake of WP students. Our PARTNERS Programme currently accounts for over 60% of our WP new entrants, and has done so for the last three years. Overall numbers applying and entering through this route are monitored carefully to ensure the Programme remains fit for purpose and its key objective in terms of supporting fair access to Newcastle University is achieved.

That said, over the 19 years the Programme has been running, we have robustly tracked our PARTNERS students through University and into employment or further study to monitor their progression, retention and success. Key success indicators for PARTNERS, therefore, include retention rates into second year of study, degree attainment levels, and progression into employment/further study including proportions entering graduate level employment. Outcomes are measured against peer groups and the University cohort as a whole.

Qualitative data is collected to illustrate the impact of the Programme on a more personal level for both the students and academics, and to ascertain what specific elements of the Programme are most beneficial.

A less tangible but equally important measure of success is the institutional culture of inclusion, belonging and support that has been fostered in our PARTNERS community. The University’s commitment to access and participation has been visible across the institution since PARTNERS was launched in 1999. Twenty years later, it remains an integral part of the University’s commitment to equality of opportunity, and with access and participation now embedded in all the University’s key Strategies (pre- and post-entry) the impact and success of PARTNERS (and our students) we anticipate will only grow.


How Successful has the project been? 

Over 5,000 students have successfully entered Newcastle University through the PARTNERS Programme, with numbers continuing to increase annually.
Numbers entering Newcastle from widening participation backgrounds
have increased by over 100% from 417 in 2013 to 901 in 2019.

Applications to PARTNERS from ethnic minority groups reached its highest ever with 625 applications for 2019 entry (compared to 495 in 2018)

Longitudinal evidence shows that retention rates have been significantly better for PARTNERS students compared to their WP peers in each of the last three years, ranging from 95.2% – 96.8% compared to 92.6% -93.3%.

The proportion of PARTNERS students obtaining a First Class or Higher Second Class degree in 2018 was higher (81.8%) than their WP peers at the University (79.3%). PARTNERS students do not perform as well as the wider cohort with regards to degree outcomes but the gap is narrowing quickly.

In 2017, of the PARTNERS students available for work or study, 79.5% were in positive destinations (graduate level employment or study). This is lower than the wider University cohort’s figure of 84.1% but is an increase from 72.2% in 2016, and the gap is narrowing.

The proportion of PARTNERS students in further study is higher than the wider UG cohort (23.4% compared to 21%).

These results indicate that the extra support we have offered PARTNERS students in recent years with regard to study and employability skills are having a positive effect.

Jade is in the final year of studying a Politics and History degree. She said, “The benefits of PARTNERS didn’t just include the lower offer, but the opportunity to spend time with academics who gave us an insight into what learning would be like. When I began writing my first essay, I felt like I was miles ahead of everyone else as I’d already been taught how to reference and how to write in line with the expectations of my chosen discipline.”

Michael is a Medicine graduate who benefitted from the PARTNERS Programme. He said, “The PARTNERS Programme has literally changed my life! Without PARTNERS I probably wouldn’t have been able to study Medicine! I didn’t quite get the grades I wanted, however, the PARTNERS Programme provided me with a lower offer into Newcastle University’s Medical School.”


A big thank you to Lucy Backhurst, Director of Student Recruitment, Admissions and Progress at Newcastle University for sharing details of this project with us.

To find out more about the PARTNERS Programme please visit

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