The UK has struggled to widen access and participation in Higher Education for the most disadvantaged and underrepresented groups a fact that the Sutton Trust reminds us has changed little over the last ten years, despite genuine attempts by universities to improve access, encouraged by the Office of Fair Access( OFFA).
It is clearly not enough for an institution just to state its commitment to the principles of equity, diversity and inclusion, but it must also implement its access policy through its mainstream decision making, resource allocation and quality assurance processes. If the Governments aim is to get 50% of young people into HE what seems clear to most people is that widening participation will require enhancing existing and developing new routes into and pathways through higher education that are appropriate for and relevant to a broader range of students, not just those school leavers with A-level qualifications.
Some of course question whether this is a sound policy, as many young people may be unsuited to Higher Education and sound alternative pathways are available to them. We are not the only country struggling with this challenge and a new report commissioned from London Metropolitan University for the Department for Business Innovation and Skills lists international research papers and profiles a range of countries current widening participation schemes . There are clearly useful lessons that England can learn from these examples. The report looks at how different countries approach the challenge. No one country can be said to have created the perfect system. England has tended, historically to model itself on the USA and Australia, but there are other countries with different approaches, such as Norway, Sweden Ireland, and even Turkey that are worthy of closer consideration.
The authors recommend that DIUS (BIS-see note) consider the range of initiatives suggested at the policy level and explore the possibility of implementing such initiatives in an English context and that DIUS prioritises those policy level initiatives that promote alternative entry, flexibility, cross-sectoral working and extension and conducts further research specifically on these issues. The authors also recommend that DIUS liaise with HEFCE to provide ring fenced funding to enable HEIs to develop initiatives from the range suggested at the institutional level. HEIs should be given discretion to decide which initiatives best suit their mission. In Norway from the start of the 2001-2002 academic years, people who had not completed secondary school were able to enter higher education based on documented non-formal learning, realkompetanse. The main aim of the Realkompetanse Project was to establish a national system for the documentation of adult non-formal and informal learning, with legitimacy in both the workplace and the education system.
The Swedish Net University was established in 2002 to support and promote the provision of information supported distance HE, with a view to increasing access. Since 2003 the accreditation of prior learning has also encouraged greater participation of students without formal qualifications. Other flexible measures include the provision of foundation and introductory courses, which prepare students lacking formal qualifications for entering HE. These courses are offered in adult education (Komvux) or by an HEI in collaboration with adult education. In Turkey to encourage promising students with low-socio economic status, many public and private universities provide scholarship covering tuition fees, accommodation and/or some monthly stipend. Some private universities let students work part-time at the university to earn a portion of their educational expenses. There are also numerous foundations and associations supporting those with low socioeconomic status, first generation entrants, people with disabilities, and those from particular cities (in the form of scholarship, accommodation and/or monthly financial aid) There is a mine of useful detailed information in this report about not only access schemes but how each country structures and funds its tertiary education sector.
Note- the authors make their recommendations to DIUS which no longer exists. We can assume that they are addressing BIS.