22 SES 13 B, Paper Session
This paper draws on the findings of the research conducted to investigate the causes of dropout and the practices that can promote successful completion on Access to Higher Education (HE) Diploma programme. The study took a qualitative approach to answer three main research questions, which were ‘What are the causes of dropout among Access to HE Diploma students?’ ‘What practices can promote successful completion on Access to HE programme?’ and ‘what are the factors affecting these practices?’ Focus group and individual interviews with Access to HE course coordinators, tutors and students as well as those who dropped out from the programme were used to collect data across six colleges, within three counties, in the East of England. Thematic analysis was subsequently used in analysing the data. Mental health issue emerged to be one of the major causes of dropout among Access to HE Diploma students. It was described as a challenge for the college as well as a national problem. Though some supports were given by some colleges, but were seen to be insufficient to deal with the issue.
Higher Education (HE) has a transformative potential not only for individuals, but also for local communities and the wider society (Vignoles and Murray, 2016). It is vital in getting societal and individual development as well as national growth facilitated (Msigwa, 2016). Powerful economic and social protection can be created by accessing HE (McNamara et al, 2019) and its value manifests in its core institutional goal of getting advanced knowledge transferred to those who can benefit and consequently get empowered by it (Tomlinson, 2018). Providing and promoting the opportunity to successfully participate in HE to all who can benefit from it is vital to economic competitiveness and social mobility (HEFCE, 2015). Despite the benefits and the opportunities of HE, there is still a significant gap for individuals from the most advantaged and disadvantaged areas in their participation and success (BIS, 2014). Whereas, for lives to be transformed through HE, there must be application and participation of individuals from a wide range of backgrounds (Vignoles and Murray, 2016). People without traditional qualifications are prepared for university study through Access to HE diploma qualifications (QAA, 2020a). It gives them the opportunity to go to university, even without relevant formal qualifications (CAVA,2020). They can pursue a wide range of careers, while being able to study subjects of their interest by gaining Access to HE (Busher et al, 2015). However, Access to HE diploma has about 22% dropout rate (QAA, 2016). This paper discusses the effect of mental health issues on the decisions made by Access to HE students to either complete or drop from the programme.
The research took a qualitative approach in answering the three research questions. It was based on Social Constructivism as the interaction of the participants in a social situation helps understand the situation (Busher and James, 2019). For this research, as there were discussions with people to construct knowledge, culture of the people and what happens in the society were key issues to consider and their activities helped in constructing reality. Purposive sampling, which allows cases to be chosen based on some processes or features of interest being illustrated (Silverman, 2010) was used in this study. Six colleges were used as sample out of a population of about eleven colleges offering Access to HE courses in the three counties used in the East of England. The six colleges were chosen based on their geographical locations and awarding bodies. Some are based in cities and some in more remote areas. A case study is a situation where one or more individuals, processes, activities, events or programs are explored in depth (Creswell, 2014). This research is a case because it studies a particular context. It focuses on how the causes of dropout among access to HE students and the practices that can encourage successful completion of these courses could be understood. To get the data to answer the research questions, interview which is an interaction between two or more people having a particular purpose in mind (Kumar, 2005) was used as the main method of data collection. The participants were Access to HE programme coordinators, tutors and students on both Science (Sc) and Non-Science (NSc) Access to HE courses. The student group included those who were on their Access to HE courses and those who had dropped from the programme. Face-to-face interviews were used to solicit information from the tutors and coordinators, which allowed their feelings and expressions to be read. For the students who dropped out of their Access to HE courses, telephone interviews were conducted with them, as they were no longer at the colleges by the time the interviews were conducted. Group interviews were set up for the students who were on their Access to HE courses at the time of the data collection as focus groups. Semi structured open ended interview questions were used for opinions and views to be elicited from participants (Creswell, 2003). This gave the participants the opportunities to express their views during the interviews.
The findings from this research revealed mental health issue to be a major cause of dropout from Access to HE courses. This concern was raised by all the colleges and will need addressing. It influences the choices made by the students on the completion of their courses and is made worse by the colleges not having enough in terms of support that could be given to people in this category. It could be too much for the colleges to handle and despite the support put in place by some colleges, they are just not enough to deal with the scale of the problem at hand.
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