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Impact Activities: Case studies

Project impacts: Across the lifecourse | Improving outcomes | Improving practice | Developing dialogue | Informing policy
Programme impacts: Public debate | Principles into practice | Westminster showcase | Electronic resources | Widening participation


Widening participation in higher education

Comprehensive resources from the portfolio of 7 projects

In 2005 HEFCE commissioned the TLRP, through ESRC, to develop a number of projects on aspects of the UK government’s policy of widening participation in higher education. Through a peer-review process, 7 projects were selected to study various aspects of policy change in post-compulsory education from issues around choices about access and/or participation within diverse types of HEI, to types of subject studied, to the policy frameworks.

Between 2005 and 2008 all the 7 studies were conducted. [These projects have been written up separately and together contributed to Improving Learning by Widening Participation in HE (David et al ed., 2009 Routledge)]. Impact Case Study 4 has examined one of the 7 projects, this one on quantitative analysis (led by Anna Vignoles, Alissa Goodman, Stephen Machin and Sandra McNally). The study led by Geoff Hayward and Hubert Ertl also used quantitative evidence to study students’ transitions from Vocational Education and Training into types of HE, whilst also considering the students’ own feelings. Similarly Gill Crozier and Diane Reay focussed upon interviewing working class students in 4 different HEIs about their approaches to participation, whilst Ann-Marie Bathmaker with Gareth Parry considered students’ in new types of furtherhigher institutions. Julian Williams and colleagues studied students on mathematics courses in further education and also reviewed their teachers’ pedagogies, contrasting with Chris Hockings’ team who studied pedagogical approaches across 5 subjects in a new and an old university. Alison Fuller with Sue Heath and other Southampton colleagues were interested in how adults with qualifications to attend university made their decisions through their social networks, finding that the majority had settled lives and chose not to go. Gareth Parry’s project also reviewed the broad and changing policy contexts for widening participation across different types of HE, linked to further education.

All the research studies documented a number of persistent educational inequalities, within and across types of school and higher education, despite the policy moves to expand higher education. The findings challenged current assumptions in policy-making about the distribution of resources and recommended new policy initiatives and approaches within higher education institutions about pedagogies and practices.

 Direct relevance to policy partnerships with the research community.

1) Given that the policy process is a dynamic and changing field all the projects addressed problems inherent in data collection whatever the methods used. Two gaps were identified which had bearing on the robustness of the evidence, namely the requirement that appropriate data be freely available from the central agencies concerned with these issues, such as UCAs and HESA  to collaborate with the research community to ensure an open research agenda. Secondly the lack of one central government agency responsible for increasing and widening access to and participation within HE across the life course was also raised as key to consistent and equitable policy developments.

2) All the projects contributed to informing policy decisions and the policy processes around aspects of widening participation in higher education. For example, Geoff Hayward’s team contributed to the Nuffield review of 14-19 year olds, and how to develop an educated citizen, whilst Gareth Parry and his team have extended their studies into the management of FE and HE institutions. Alison Fuller’s team has had an impact upon policy changes around the Leitch review and the development of diplomas. Further and higher education needs to be considered as part of a common enterprise rather than as separate and competing. Unequal funding streams need to be addressed.

3) Policy and practice at institutional level was also addressed with issues about the appropriate forms of quality for learning and teaching across diverse subjects addressed.  For example Crozier’s team argued that the missions of individual universities needed to be mindful of the diversity of needs of their students. Pedagogical improvement was also raised as essential to ensuring more equity across diverse students by both Julian Williams and Chris Hockings’ teams.

Effective non-academic dissemination

1) Policy- and user-oriented publications included two policy commentaries, one on Widening Participation in HE (2007) and one on Effective Learning and Teaching in UK HE(2009)These publications have been widely distributed to the HE policy and user communities, including the Higher Education Academy’s annual conference and specific conferences on equity in HE, its subject centre meetings, especially ESCAlate, SWAP and CSAP. The Runnymede Trust also has incorporated issues in its work on ethnicity in widening participation in HE. The Work Foundation, in association with Helena Kennedy Trust and further education has also developed resources with TLRP research.

) Media impact: a remarkable feature of these projects was the extensive interest that were generated and maintained in the various print and other media.
Effective international capacity building and academic dissemination

  1. Academic publications. Apart from the edited collection on Improving Learning by Widening Participation in HE (2009, Routledge) all the projects have produced papers and journal articles as well as conference contributions at BERA, AERA, ECER and other specialist conferences such as in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, India, New Zealand and Singapore.
  2. Academic promotions was a key feature of the success of these 7 research teams illustrating the wide impact of research on widening participation, especially in terms of gender. Heath, Hockings and Vignoles all became professors during the course of the research whilst Bathmaker and Crozier successfully moved institutions. Follow-on or extension projects with the ESRC or HEFCE and QAA were also successfully negotiated, such as by Julian Williams’ team and Gareth Parry’s, whilst others completed their PhDs or successfully advanced their individual research (eg Sandra Cooke).

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