22 SES 11 D, Student Transitions and Graduate Employability
This paper presents research into the transitions of former apprentices to higher education in England, specifically focusing on the landscape of qualifications, referred to here as ‘the credential landscape’. ‘Apprenticeship’ is used to refer to training based on a combination of work-based and theoretical learning funded (to differing degrees) by the UK Government. Higher education is the term adopted to encompass all accredited learning beyond level 3, so that it includes not only full-time bachelor degrees but other higher level qualifications such as Foundation degrees (level 5).
The credential landscape of vocational and higher education in the UK has expanded in recent years, alongside a rise in the number of students undertaking qualifications and a steady increase in tuition fees. Qualification frameworks have also been developed, designed to ensure that qualifications can be more easily recognised, accredited and transferred nationally and internationally. One of these is the European Qualifications Framework (EQF) introduced to assist in comparing qualifications and promote the mobility of students.
Yet despite the proliferation of these structures, it is claimed there remains a hierarchy between vocational and academic pathways that perpetuates unequal outcomes. As Hoelscher (2008: 149) described, ‘the traditional A-level route still opens up the best opportunities into those institutions with higher reputations’. This is important for widening participation and social mobility, both issues continuing to cause concern among UK academics and policymakers (Milburn, 2012). It is also important for students wishing to pursue higher education from a vocational background, such as from an apprenticeship.
The transition has received increasing attention during the last decade. This is partly due to the ambition set out in the Leitch report (2006), that in England 40% of all adults need to be qualified at level 4 and above by 2020, as well as emphasis by the UK government on encouraging more opportunities for transition from apprenticeship to higher education (Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, 2009). Despite this, only low numbers appear to progress in this way (HEFCE, 2009; Smith and Joslin, 2011). However, the ways in which this pathway is navigated according to the students who have progressed to higher education, has received little attention.
For a number of researchers, the value of higher education lies in the process of becoming (Hager and Hodkinson, 2009; McArthur, 2011; Dismore, 2013). This view regards learning as a changing relational web in a process of ongoing change, inherently part of and shaped by its context, social and embodied (Hager and Hodkinson, 2009). In other words, it encompasses learning through participation (Lave and Wenger, 1991) and individual transformation (Mezirow, 1991). This is important if, as Guile (2003) claims, the knowledge economy requires learners to develop a ‘capacity to understand and anticipate change’ (David and Foray, 2002: 16) and to produce new knowledge. It also reflects a lifewide perception of lifelong learning as expressed by Billett (2010), who warns that we should not ignore the importance of learning outside courses, because it promotes ‘a form of learning support that lends itself to regulation and control’ (p.5).
However, research that captures such a theory is limited, reflecting the complexities of structure and agency. Archer (2007, 2012) addresses the interplay between structure and agency and importantly, seeks to avoid underplaying or overplaying human agency. To achieve this, Archer (1995) developed an approach of analytical dualism, recognising that agency and structure operate on different timescales. She argues that it is possible to unpick them analytically by investigating human reflexivity which mediates between structure and agency. This process also serves to understand how structural objectivity and agential subjectivity are both entailed by concepts of ‘constraints’ and ‘enablements’.
Archer, M. (1995) Realist Social Theory: the morphogenetic approach. Cambridge, Cambridge: University Press. Archer, M. (2007) Making Our Way Through the World: human reflexivity and social mobility. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Archer, M. (2012) The Reflexive Imperative in Late Modernity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Billett, S. (2010) The perils of confusing lifelong learning with lifelong education, International Journal of Lifelong Education, 29 (4), 401-413. David, P. and Foray, D. (2002) Economic fundamentals of the knowledge society, International Social Science Journal, 171,149-167. Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) (2009) Higher Ambitions: the future of universities in a knowledge economy. London: BIS. Dismore, H. (2013) Experiencing the transition from an apprenticeship to higher education. Journal of Education and Work, DOI:10.1080/13639080.2013.802831. Hager, P. and Hodkinson, P. (2009) Moving Beyond the Transfer of Learning. British Educational Research Journal 35 (4), 619–638. Higher Education Funding Council for England. (HEFCE) (2009) Pathways to Higher Education Apprenticeships 2009/17. Available online http://www.hefce.ac.uk/pubs/hefce/2009/09_17/. Accessed 22.06.2010. Hoelscher, M., Hayward, G., Ertl, H. and Dunbar-Goddet, H. (2008) The transition from vocational education and training to higher education: a successful pathway? Research Papers in Education, 23 (2), 139-151. Guile, D. (2003) From ‘Credentialism’ to the ‘Practice of Learning’: reconceptualising learning for the knowledge economy. Policy Futures in Education 1(1), 83-105. Lave, J. and Wenger, E. (1991) Situated Learning: legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Leitch Review. (2006). Prosperity for all in the global economy – world class skills (final report) London: HM Treasury. McArthur, J. (2011) Reconsidering the social and economic purposes of higher education, Higher Education Research & Development, 30 (6), 737-749. Mezirow, J. (1991) Transformative Dimensions of Adult Learning. San Fransisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Milburn, A. (2012) University Challenge: how higher education can advance social mobility. A progress report by The Independent Reviewer on Social Mobility and Child Poverty. London: The Cabinet Office. Smith, S. and Joslin, H. (2011) Apprentice Progression Tracking Research Project Report. Longitudinal tracking of advanced level apprentice cohorts progressing into higher education 2005-06 to 2009-10. Centre for Work-Based Learning: University of Greenwich.
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