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Improving access to university through Nuffield Research Placements

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An independent evaluation of Nuffield Research Placements shows they increase access to university courses in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

Student participants report improved confidence and motivation, as well as gaining specific skills in presenting, writing and time management.

Nuffield Research Placements provide over 1,000 students each year with the opportunity to work on a research project in a professional environment during their summer holidays. We prioritise students from low-income households and those who do not have a family history of going to university.

Our goal in providing the placements is to increase opportunities for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to access university courses and careers in STEM (including social science). To evaluate how well we are meeting that goal, we commissioned Frontier Economics and CFE Research to evaluate the impact of Nuffield Research Placements on the education and career outcomes of students and to identify areas where the programme might be improved. The six-year evaluation is tracking the education and career destinations of three cohorts in comparison to similar students that have not undertaken a placement. 


Results so far – initial findings from the evaluation

  1. Nuffield Research Placements have a positive impact on participants’ access to STEM higher education courses. Nearly a third (32%) of participants enrolled in a STEM course in a Russell Group institution, compared to 25% of comparable pupils with similar demographic background and academic attainment.

  2. Participants reported that the placement enhanced their study motivation, overall confidence in abilities and specific skills in presenting, writing and time management. These skills are beneficial both for employment within STEM and for their transferability to employment in other areas.

  3. The programme is successfully targeting students from more disadvantaged backgrounds: 22% of pupils offered a placement between 2014 and 2016 were eligible for Free School Meals in the six years prior to the offer. 

Nuffield Research Placement host organisations describe their experiences with students.


There are many programmes that – like Nuffield Research Placements – are aimed at enriching young people’s education or supporting those that are disadvantaged. However, they are rarely evaluated in this rigorous way. We hope that sharing details of the evaluation and its initial findings will help strengthen approaches to designing and evaluating programmes.” Josh Hillman, Director of Education at the Nuffield Foundation


Download the interim report from Frontier Economics and CFE Research as part of their six-year evaluation of Nuffield Research Placements.

Impact highlights

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We improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in EducationWelfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

We offer our grant-holders the freedom to frame questions and enable new thinking. Our research must stand up to rigorous academic scrutiny, but we understand that to be successful in effecting change, it also needs to be relevant to people’s experience.