22 SES 05 C, Student Transitions and Graduate Employability
There is much emphasis on lifelong learning across Europe and at the wider level of the European Union: enabling people to enter higher education (HE) is thought to be linked with economic productivity and competitiveness (Lee et al, 2008; Osborne et al, 2004). However, different countries within Europe have different approaches to widening participation and supporting non-traditional learners into university – England and Finland, for example, have a more consistent country-wide approach than, for example, Sweden (Osborne et al, 2004). Davies (2003) points out the difficulties of developing a single European Union policy on widening participation (or indeed on higher education more generally), not least because universities prize their own autonomy. This paper presents early findings from the High-Potential Learners Project, which focuses on a specific aspect of widening participation: that of high-potential students in low-performing institutions in England, and their applications to Russell Group (RG) universities (a group of highly selective, prestigious, research-intensive institutions).
There are many able students with high potential who are learning in contexts in which academic excellence and the highest aspirations are not the norm, and who therefore do not apply to the most prestigious and selective universities. There are a number of dimensions in which the experiences and perceptions of these students are likely to differ from those of their equally able peers in better performing institutions and that hold them back. The High-Potential Learners Project aims to understand the key influences on the decision making of disadvantaged learners with high potential from different types of low-performing institutions.
A recent report looked retrospectively at the university application decisions of students from a range of institutions in England who were predicted at least 3 B grades at A-level (UCAS, 2012). This report identified concerns over the cost of living, self-efficacy, and exposure to others successfully applying to the most selective HE institutions as factors associated with a reduced likelihood of applying to top universities. The wide variation in the rate of HE entrance between schools and colleges with similarly low average performance at age 18 (DfE, 2012) suggests that the practices of teachers and other staff can make a great deal of difference to the outcomes of learners in this context, and they are likely of greatest importance when there are fewer peer and parental role models available. Schools are also an important provider of information on the benefits of attending the highest status universities. While the context of this research is uniquely English, particularly in the current climate of increased tuition fees in England, there are many lessons that can be learned about how schools and colleges, and family and friends can influence young people’s decision making about HE, that are relevant across Europe.
- Which factors are associated with increased Higher Education participation at any university at age 18 or 19?
- Among those attending university, what distinguishes students attending Russell Group Universities from those attending other Higher Education Institutions?
- What are the key individual-level and school-/teacher-level factors in the decision-making processes involved in university choice among high-potential A-level students from institutions with below average performance?
- Are any of the factors more or less salient in different types of institution (FE college, sixth-form college, or 11-18 school), or in different local contexts?
Davies, P. (2003) Widening participation and the European Union: direct action – indirect policy? European Journal of Education, 38 (1), 99-116. DfE (2012). Destinations of Key Stage 4 and Key Stage 5 pupils in 2009/10. OSR13/2012. London: DfE. Lee, M., Thayer, T. and Madyun, N. (2008) The evolution of the European Union’s lifelong learning policies: an institutional learning perspective, Comparative Education, 44(4), 445-463. Osbourne, M, Sandberg, H. and Tuomi, O. (2004) A comparison of developments in university continuing education in Finland, the UK and Sweden. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 23(2), 137-158. UCAS (2012). Tracking the Decision-Making of High Achieving Higher Education Applicants. London: BIS.
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