Evaluating the impact of Ufi grant funding

2015 – 2019

Introduction from our CEO, Rebecca Garrod-Waters


Today sees the publication of the most recent independent evaluation of Ufi’s grant funding programmes from 2015 to 2019.  I am thrilled to be able to share what we have learnt and to celebrate the impact of Ufi funding on learners, organisations and the wider vocational skills sector.

When we launched Ufi’s first strategy in 2015, we had a clear focus on helping adults to gain the skills needed for work and supporting learners as they move through their careers, providing opportunities for lifelong learning and skills development in ways that fit around work and life commitments. We believed that digital tools could offer increased flexibility, new approaches to learning, new ways of accrediting learning, new distribution models and new relationships with learning providers and we set out to create a community of developers and learning providers focused on helping adults in the UK to access learning and gain vocational skills by funding innovation in digital technologies.

We named our strategy ‘Learning Without Walls’ as we saw the potential for digital technology to change the way people have access to learning, in particular its role in opening-up access for learners who have been unable to fit into the ‘traditional’ classroom model or formal learning methods.

We also saw the potential for digital learning to provide the opportunity to reach industries and communities that are geographically too spread out to create a sustainable market for traditional training methods.

We knew we couldn’t change the world ourselves, but we had the potential to catalyse a large-scale positive change, focussing on learners who were often overlooked or unloved.

With this in mind Ufi committed its funding to catalyse a step change in vocational learning by supporting innovators to develop early stage ideas for how tech can make a significant difference to the number of people gaining new skills, and to showcase and demonstrate how digital can offer new models and approaches to learning that can work at scale across the vocational sector in the UK.


Ufi grant funding priorities 2015 – 2020

So I am really pleased that I am able to share the evaluation of our grant funding activity over our 2015-2020 strategy cycle and to reflect on how far we have come on our journey.

The insights and case studies in the evaluation report show that we’re making great progress to the priorities we set for our first five years of grant funding and our ambition to catalyse change by building what we now call our ‘VocTech community’.

I am particularly proud that the evaluation shines a light on the way we work at Ufi as a potential model for other grant funders to learn from. Ufi offers much more than funding.  Our project enrichment support, underpinned by relationships with our Project Account Managers, and our willingness to take risks and encourage experimentation are recognised as critical pieces of scaffolding that create a supportive environment for innovators, where ideas can be tested and given the best chance to scale and flourish.

The report confirms that:

  • Ufi funding is changing the way people have access to learning, at scale
    2.6m adults across every stage of their working lives have been impacted by new digital learning tools and approaches funded by Ufi between 2015 and 2019.
  • Ufi funding is opening up access for learners who have not been well served by ‘mainstream’ provision
    Our projects have been effective in providing accessible opportunities to learn and were often valued for ‘winning hearts and minds’ in sectors or working environments that have not traditionally been advanced in using vocational learning technology.
  • The Ufi funding model is catalysing change in the organisations we work with and the wider sector
    Our unique approach as a funder and critical friend of innovators is having a lasting impact on the organisations we support beyond the project itself. This includes the formation of new partnerships; the embedding of new knowledge and working practices, new revenue and access to new markets.
Evaluating the impact of our grant funding 2015 - 2020 infographic

View the full infographic (.pdf)

We are grateful to York Consulting for their research and compiling the report, for the projects who shared their experiences so helpfully, from which we have been able to compile some really useful practical insights for anyone who is developing new digital learning solutions in the vocational sector.

I value the opportunity to look back at Ufi’s first strategy cycle, not only to reflect on the progress made, but also to think about what remains relevant for the world we are in today and our next five years. The fast-pace of change identified in our first strategy has not abated. And arguably the need to unlock the potential of digital tools and pedagogies to open up access and offer increased flexibility is – perhaps now more than ever – key to ensuring the UK has the skills it needs to ensure a thriving and sustainable economy and society where everyone is included, and no one is left behind.

In reading this evaluation report I am immensely grateful to every member of the Ufi ‘team’ of trustees, staff, freelancers and the organisations we support who have worked tirelessly to deliver the strategy. And I am also strengthened in my enthusiasm for and commitment to unlocking the continued potential of digital for the UK vocational skills system.

Rebecca Garrod-Waters

CEO, Ufi VocTech Trust

Ufi VocTech Trust graphic

This evaluation covers our grant funding activities from 2015 to 2019. Our next external evaluation, covering the period of 2020 to 2025, will include our work across grant funding, venture investment and partnerships. We will begin this process with an interim report, expected in 2024.


Impact on users

Between 2015 and 2019 an estimated 2.6 million learners were reached by projects grant funded by Ufi, with a focus on supporting communities, sectors, skill levels and geographies that are not well served by mainstream provision. Projects originated from a wide and diverse range of environments, employment settings and organisation types, helping ensure equity of impact.

The report highlights a general agreement that Ufi grant funding has the potential to reach under-supported audiences who face challenges to their learning and skills development. This could be because they are in a sector not traditionally associated with technological learning solutions, or because their learners face barriers to learning. Learner groups highlighted in the report include care leavers, people who are homeless, and people in prison.

The report notes the effectiveness of our projects in providing accessible opportunities to learn, suggesting that “learners appreciate the innovative, accessible and engaging ways learning is delivered through Ufi funded solutions”. Particular attention was made to the success of Ufi supported projects in creating solutions that allow learners to practice with virtual materials, enabling them to grow in confidence and reach an appropriate level of competency in a safe environment. As well as supporting learners, this has additional cost-saving benefits for employers.

Pro-active engagement with employers formed a crucial part of many projects. By involving employers in the project development and testing phases, solutions were validated and the potential adoption and scaling of new technologies was increased. Engagement in grant funded projects was also shown to help expose employers to the potential for new approaches to up-skilling their employees.

CodeYourFuture logo

Spotlight on: CodeYourFuture

CodeYourFuture is a voluntary initiative which teaches refugees and locally born disadvantaged people to code for free, supports their soft skills development and then helps them to find meaningful work in the tech sector. By working with partners to find work placements for their learners, they have been able to create an effective learner-employer pipeline. The organisation has had a steady stream of applicants since the end of Ufi grant funding and is now training around 2,000 individuals a year.

Explore the project

Impact on the organisations we support

The majority of grant recipients felt that the experience of working with Ufi has had a lasting impact on the development of their team or organisation. Beyond the benefit of the funding itself, organisations reported increased digitisation and openness to technical solutions with a potential for cultural and attitudinal changes relating to improving skills and encouraging a willingness to innovate, adopt and embrace new digital pedagogies.

“Projects were often valued for ‘winning hearts and minds’ in sectors or working environments that have not traditionally been advanced in using vocational technology.”

Additional impacts reported include the formation of new partnerships; the embedding of new knowledge and working; an increase in the project’s profile; new revenue and access to new markets. Several projects have employed new staff with others changing their business models to centralise the developed product and make it more of a focus to their operations.

iDEA logo

Spotlight on: iDEA

"It’s not just the Ufi funding that’s supported iDEA. It’s all of the really flexible enrichment support that they offer as well, which has been invaluable for us as a small team. iDEA hopes to be here to inspire and empower many millions of learners for many years to come.”

Polly Morgan, Programme Director, iDEA

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Spotlight on: CENTURY

In 2017 Ufi grant funding supported CENTURY to pilot the use of their AI platform and demonstrate its potential in improving outcomes for English and Maths learners in further education. The project helped support the development of adaptive, auto-marked content, as well as training and ongoing support for staff, delivering personalised learning pathways and ultimately freeing up teacher time. Today, CENTURY work with over half of the UKs FE colleges. Ufi is currently supporting innovation at CENTURY through the VocTech Challenge 2021 grant fund.

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Impact on the skills sector

Ufi has always placed importance on championing vocational skills and skills for work within the skills sector, and is passionate about vocational skills as the engine of the UK economy. Our funding approach was designed to put vocational skills first – so tech was being developed and deployed with vocational skills at the heart, not just as an afterthought. This means design and user testing that is adult focussed and developed within the context of workplaces and adult skills environments.

If we are to achieve our mission, we know that we need to catalyse change in many ways and this meant increasing the availability and quality of the tech available for adults and supporting the skills sector to adopt and deploy that tech.

Ufi know that the best vocational technology is developed to solve real problems and address real needs in vocational education, rather than developing tech for tech’s sake. Projects acknowledged and valued this approach, as well as recognising the importance of designing products with learners at their heart and gathering evidence to validate their development. Numerous projects highlight the significance of the data collected during testing phases, not just in informing product development, but also in deepening their understanding of learner attitudes and behaviours, and supporting retention strategies.

Elevating the profile and supporting the broad adoption of vocational technology across the skills sector is key to delivering our mission through our Theory of Change.

Ufi grant funding has helped to foster a culture of innovation and experimentation within various organisations. This has led to a more agile and adaptive approach to learning and development, as well as a willingness to embrace new technologies and digital solutions.

Overall, the report found that Ufi support has played an important role in promoting digital learning solutions and driving positive attitudes towards them, particularly in sectors with currently low levels of vocational technology use.


Spotlight on: Careerhacker.ai

Multiverse (formerly known as Whitehat) is a notable success story, with the Ufi VocTech Impact 2017 grant funding playing a key role in its early development. With Ufi’s support, the project team was able to create a platform that utilised machine learning to match apprentices with high-quality opportunities, enabling them to establish a digital fingerprint and enhance their networking capabilities. By the end of the funding period, young people in London were applying for apprenticeships using their mobile phones. In June 2022 Multiverse was valued at $1.7 billion and became the UK’s first EdTech unicorn.

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Reflections on Ufi’s grant funding strategy

We believe we are a different type of grant funder. Our model is based on flexibility, openness and the art of the possible. We know that innovation and change involve risk and there are often unexpected outcomes – there is learning in all innovation. Imagination is key, but central to all conversations is the question: ‘What are you trying to achieve?’.

In light of this ethos, we are really proud of the report’s conclusion that overall views towards Ufi, our approach to grant funding, project management and delivery are extremely positive. Grant recipients praised the uniqueness of Ufi, its focus and commitment to vocational technology, its willingness to take risks and encourage experimentation. Grant recipients also praised the range of grants offered at different stages along the technological development spectrum.

You can find out more about grant recipients’ reflections on Ufi here.

“Working with Ufi has taught us that funders can be flexible, understanding, supportive and helpful within a grant giving context where trust between funder and grantee can allow projects to fly, while still being accountable, cost effective and produce added value. We have worked with numerous funders for over 30 years and there are many others who might benefit from the Ufi model.”

Simon Roper, Ambios

Insights from our projects on developing vocational technology

Our evaluation process included asking our grant funded projects to reflect on the key lessons they have learnt during their journeys through Ufi grant funding, what works when developing vocational technology, and the advice they would give to future recipients of funding from Ufi.

Four clear themes emerged from the project reflections focused on:

  • project design;
  • stakeholder engagement;
  • project delivery; and
  • the end product.
Developing and delivering vocational technology

Explore the insights from our projects.

Further details are included in the full evaluation report below.

Download the full evaluation report

Our external evaluation was completed by York Consulting and involved a review of project-level data and documentation, online surveys with grant recipients and interviews with projects and members of the Ufi team.