In the letter to Offa and the Higher Education Funding Council for England, David Willetts, the universities and science minister, and Vince Cable, the business secretary, ask the bodies to consider how total investment in the area should be “targeted to deliver impact”.
The document sets out how the government’s money is currently allocated, including Hefce’s £140 million widening participation premium and the much-criticised National Scholarship Programme, which will cost £150 million a year from 2014-15.
It also notes that institutions themselves are planning to spend £620 million on access measures by 2015-16.
The letter goes on to ask Hefce and Offa to develop a strategy to ensure that “all relevant spending is based on the best possible evidence base and harnessed to drive systematic improvements”.
“The time is now right to look strategically across investment streams, to ensure we achieve synergy and maximise the outcomes for students,” it says.
The heads of both Hefce and Offa welcomed the letter.
Sir Alan Langlands, Hefce’s chief executive, said the body was “firmly committed to the principle that everyone with the potential to benefit from successful participation in higher education should have the opportunity to do so”.
“By building a shared strategy with Offa, we can ensure that all our efforts to support widening participation and student success are pulling together,” he added.
Sir Martin Harris, the current director of fair access, said: “Offa and Hefce already work in close partnership, including jointly monitoring universities’ and colleges’ work on widening participation and improving access.
“We look forward to building on and strengthening these links as we develop a shared strategy on higher education access and student success that will support the higher education sector and improve social mobility.”