The policy document is being developed by the Office for Fair Access and the Higher Education Funding Council for England after they were asked to examine the best ways to encourage students from poorer families to study at university.
The strategy will examine how monies allocated to bursaries, scholarships, fee waivers and community outreach - estimated to be almost £1 billion a year by 2015-16 - are spent and which types of financial support are most effective in helping people from socially disadvantaged groups into higher education.
The strategy’s creation follows a letter from Vince Cable, the business secretary, and David Willetts, the universities and science minister, to Offa and Hefce in May asking them to work together to establish best practice.
The two bodies have now recommended the creation of a national strategy, which would “encompass work that is led by other sector bodies, practitioner groups, institutions and student unions”, according to a letter to ministers dated 22 October, which was published on 23 November.
It will address “participation throughout the whole student life cycle, from pre-entry right through to progression into further study or employment, as well as reflect the rich diversity of higher education providers,” the letter says.
The work will also look at widening participation at postgraduate level, although this is likely to take longer given the limited evidence base, the letter adds.
Mr Cable and Mr Willetts have asked the two bodies for “early estimates” on how much is being spent on access and widening participation activities in an interim report to be delivered by mid-January 2013.
Speaking at a Westminster Higher Education Forum conference in London on 26 November, the government’s social mobility tsar, Alan Milburn, who published a report on university access last month, said a review of widening participation spending was needed.
“We have the greatest research institutions in the world, which are remarkably good at researching everyone else but remarkably bad at researching themselves and how they spend money,” he said.
The evidence that fee waivers helped to boost widening participation was “thin to non-existent”, he added.