07 SES 14 B, The Access to University of Vulnerable Groups
Objectives This paper aims to analyse access to higher education (HE) of vulnerable groups via a country case study, looking at current UK policy and taking a case study of Newcastle University. By considering the detailed actions over time of one university in the context of national policy this paper aims to draw out understandings about university access that are of theoretical relevance to international contexts. Across vulnerable groups in the UK those from socio-economic disadvantage has the greatest adverse impact on HE access than other groups (such as BME participation, gender or disability). The high stakes environment in UK schools has led to a narrow pedagogy focused on gaining exam results to enable university access at the same time as high university fees (£9000) and cuts to student grants. Theoretical framework Activity systems analysis of widening access to HE in the UK suggests conflict between the market interests of neoliberalised HE sector and the objects of social mobility. Mentoring systems are based on ideas of social capital but cannot make up the advantage of those from privileged groups. Methods The UK policy environment is examined in terms of the actions of the HE sector nationally to improve access. Data is analysed from Newcastle University’s broad programme of activities that tracked over 1000 students. Detailed data is examined from interviews with a smaller group of young people at university who had previously lived in public care, and their carers. Conclusions Data showed improvements as a result of widening participation activities in the proportions of young people from vulnerable groups attending university but a recent fall in application rates. It was also found that retention rates and degree results were high. However, there was a problem in going on to obtain degree level employment. Analysis of mentoring programmes suggested the significant work needed by young people from vulnerable groups for them to access and achieve well at university. Our analysis of data from young people in care found that carers and professionals could act as gatekeepers influencing the young people, often adversely, in their care about whether or not to consider HE. Significance A school system that is focused primarily on HE exam entry is unlikely to meet the holistic needs of young people and therefore unlikely to facilitate their pathways to successful futures. Widening access is an issue for all sectors including schools and employers.
Cummings, Colleen, Karen Laing, James Law, Janice McLaughlin, Ivy Papps, Liz Todd and Pam Woolner. 2012. "Can Changing Aspirations and Attitudes Impact on Educational Attainment? A Review of Interventions. ." Vol. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Daniels, H., A. Edwards, Y. Engestrom, T. Gallagher and S. R. Ludvigsen. 2010. Activity Theory in Practice. Promoting Leaning across Boundaries and Agencies. London: Routledge. Edwards, Anne, ed. 2017. Working Relationally in and across Practices: A Cultural-Historical Approach to Collaboration. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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