BTECs have proven to be an essential part of the sector’s recent progress in widening access. Reforms to the qualification landscape should clarify how this continues, argues Nona Buckley-Irvine.
Despite widespread recognition that higher levels of education are essential for countries to compete, and the fact that the number of people in higher education is growing, access to higher education continues to be skewed according to socio-economic status. Mary Stuart takes a look at some of the current issues with policies on ‘access’ and unpicks how and why universities should play a role in social mobility.
More evidence out this week confirms what, in the main, we already know. Access to the most selective universities for working class young people is not only incredibly unequal, but apparently in decline, according to the latest report of the Milburn commission on social mobility and child poverty. But caught up in this debate once again are differing views about what a ‘good’ university is, and who they should be for. We need to stop having the same conversation over and over again.
There are few things that excite wonks more than excellent and well-timed policy research. Last week, BIS published its report Understanding Higher Education in Further Education Colleges, written by a dream team of policy researchers – Gareth Parry from Sheffield and Claire Callender, Peter Scott and Paul Temple from IoE. HE in FE is one of the least-understood parts of UK tertiary education, and despite pockets of work in other quarters; no one else has attempted such an exhaustive study of this issue. Although it will surely have its critics, this new report is without a doubt the seminal work about HE in FE right now and absolutely essential reading no matter which side of the HE/FE divide you fall.
I’m not quite sure when or how it happened, but suddenly we are all madly concerned about widening access to postgraduate study. Before Christmas I wrote about the postgraduate policy vacuum – that the government seemed to have no fixed plans to build postgraduates into national strategy in either research or teaching.
But policy, it would seem, abhors a vacuum, and since the New Year we have seen a flurry of activity from within and outside BIS. The 1994 Group chose to make postgraduates the issue in early January. The Higher Education Commission launched an inquiry into postgraduate education. BIS had a roundtable. HEFCE replaced the teaching grant at taught postgraduate level for bands A-C. And last week the Open University held a national conference on widening participation to postgraduate education.
What do I mean by the ‘Social Aspirational Gap’? Well, I’ve borrowed the phrase from Matthew Taylor’s excellent keynote address to the QAA Annual Conference last week. It is essentially the gap between where society is now and where we want it to be in the future. The question is; do we have the tools required to get there?