22 SES 08 D, Access to and drop-out of academia
English higher education is acknowledged as one of the most marketised systems in the world (Huisman, Meek and Wood, 2007; Marginson 2013; Brown and Carrasso 2014; McGettigan 2013). Individual HE institutions (HEIs) are expected to compete for applicants informed by a wide range of consumer information, the provision of which is regulated by the Office for Students (OfS) in what is termed a 'risk-based regulatory system' (HERA 2017). Institutions have to develop access and participation plans (APPs) which detail how they are addressing various system-wide and institutional recruitment shortages (from groups underrepresented in higher education). In theory, HEIs that fail to act to widen access by addressing these shortages can be denied the right to charge the maximum fee, although it should be noted that they are not punished for failing to recruit from these underrepresented groups. In fact the competitive nature of the system means that elite institutions with the greatest 'prestige' aim to retain that reputation by only selecting from among those with the highest post-school qualifications: given the well-evidenced link between social class and type of institution attended (Sutton Trust 2004, HEFCE 2009, 2010, 2013; OFFA 2010, 2011; Social Mobility Commission 2016; DBIS 2011), competitive pressure alone was never likely to equalise social justice through access to HE.
Since the beginnings of state engagement with the marketisation of the English system in the early 2000s (DfE 2003; HMSO 2004) it has become clear that competition between institutions does not in itself guarantee a widening of access to the extent that underrepresented groups are equally served. Alongside market competition, the neoliberal system developing in England acknowledged this by mandating all HEIs to participate in collaborative outreach in the form of Excellence Challenge (2001, became Aimhigher from 2004) and encouraged the development of progression pathways from school and college into HE (Lifelong Learning Networks from 2006). While unpopular with elite institutions (Browne 2010) these obligations at least recognised that the market in effect had failed to provide equality of access, something recently acknowledged by the OfS (DfE 2017). While collaborative outreach programmes were de-funded in 2010 and 2011(the high water mark of competitive differentiation, McCaig 2018), in fact collaborative outreach programmes were reintroduced after 2014 as the state once again realised that access targets (e.g. numbers of applicants from poorer and some ethnic minority backgrounds) would never be met by the market alone.
This paper will discuss the impact of two collaborative outreach programmes: the National Networks for Collaborative Outreach (NNCO) which ran from 2014-2016; and the National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP) which ran from 2016 and is currently funded to 2021. The focus of the discussion will be the relationship between two distinct market drivers operating on HEIs; the work they are expected to do in the name of competition with other HEIs; and the work they are obliged to do in the pursuance of government-set access targets in collaboration with other HEIs. Data is derived from the author's involvement as an evaluator of both NNCO and NCOP programmes. The main themes explored are: potential conflict between individualist and collective goals of institutional outreach teams; the lack of historical institutional memory (after a 4 year period with no collaboration); variable buy-in from different HEI types (elite and access institutions in the same partnerships); data sharing; possibilities of cultural change; development of collaborative organisational behaviours; potential for persistence of collaborative behaviours
Data is derived from two national evaluations (one ongoing). The NNCO evaluation of this short-lived programme over 18 months mandated all HEIs to participate in regional or discipline-specific partnerships along with other providers and stakeholders (FE colleges, schools, local authorities and Third Sector organisations). The evaluation included a specifically developmental strand delivered through a series of workshops and one-to-one case support, encouraging NNCOs to build evaluation into their activities and to identify 'cold spots' where little outreach activity was present. The research in fact revealed few 'cold spots' but much overlap of efforts, with multiple HEIs and Third Sector organisations seeking to work with schools that had good records of progression to HE. This ongoing NCOP programme builds on the lessons learned from the NNCO programme but with a targeted focus specifically on young people in schools years Y9 and Y13 that live in low participation neighbourhoods with an 'participation gap' between school leaving grades and progression into HE. As with the NNCO programme the formative evaluation contains a large 'case support' developmental emphasis designed to foster better evaluation of activities at Consortia level. However there is a larger degree of quantitative and qualitative data from institutional surveys of NCOP staff (two annual sweeps as of January 2019) and case-study data from twelve field visits over the first two years of the programme. These include interviews with Consortia Leads; Evaluation and Data Leads (for the whole consortia); other staff at Lead institutions; lead contacts at Partner institutions; staff at Schools and Colleges where much of the activity is delivered. The paper will present selected findings from two major reports: the final NNCO report (HEFCE 2017) and the Year One Progress Report for the NCOP (HEFCE 2018).
Early evidence suggests that HEIs are acting collaboratively and that additional activity is being developed in response to localised need, albeit with little evidence so far of systematic evaluation. Alongside the Formative Evaluation, focusing on how Consortia are working in practice, there is an Impact Evaluation designed to track young people's progress (i.e. eventually into HE) and to explore the value of Random Controlled Trials and other quasi-experimental evaluation designs that could provide solid evidence of the effectiveness of such outreach activities. The concluding discussion will be centred around: • Can the two market driven systems - collaborative and individualist - persist? • Does the market help or hinder effectiveness? • Evaluation outputs could cross the divide: toolkits developed form OFFA evaluations could inform evaluation activity of Consortia (vice-versa) • NCOP funded evaluative activities - HEAT, RCTs, Quasi-Experimental evaluation methods - too early to say if it raises application rates or at which institutions. • Many of lessons of NCOP are about how the process of collaboration works, how the culture can become embedded, rather than about effective outreach evaluation practice.
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