UNDER-REPRESENTED groups are being encouraged to return to learning through a pound;9 million scheme announced this week.
The money - which comes from both the further and higher education funding councils - will go towards 70 projects aimed at increasing the recruitment and retention of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The projects aim to aid progression to further and higher education and to remove obstacles faced by those wanting to continue their learning.
Some of the schemes will target ethnic groups such as African-Caribbean men and Bangladeshi and Pakistani women - who are under-represented - while others address financial barriers by setting up local credit schemes.
In the Birmingham area, community-based education facilities have been set up after research showed that Muslim women were reluctant to travel to college. The scheme will also include a summer school to raise awareness of higher education opportunities.
Six universities in the North-east are working together to attract applications from school-leavers with no family history of higher education. A system of mentors, taster sessions and workshops with primary children and their families will try to dispel some of the stereotypes attached to a university education.
David Melville, chief executive of the Further Education Funding Council, said:
"As more students from non-traditional and disadvantaged backgrounds succeed in further education, it is essential that we build ladders to higher education that they can also climb successfully.
"It is equally essential that higher education reaches out to and embraces these students."
Sir Brian Fender, chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council, added: "The innovative and diverse projects funded under this programme demonstrate the increasing collaboration among universities and colleges to encourage students to fulfil their potential through higher education."