Tag Archives: Widening Participation

Minister sets the scene for Higher Education: some brief comments

On the 9th September 2015 Jo Johnson MP, Minister of State for Universities and Science, delivered a speech entitled ‘Higher education: fulfilling our potential’. The speech begins to lay out the direction of travel after a period during the coalition where there was much thinking and little action.
jo johnson blog
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Word clouds are a crude device, but it is interesting that the big words are:

Students

“Students are the primary source of income for undergraduate study, but their interests are insufficiently represented in our structures and systems.”

It seems that now students are customers they should have more representation. Yet students do not generally see themselves in this way. Representation is not quite the same as partnership, which, although more challenging, would perhaps result in much more debate about what a university education should be all about.

Providers

“To ensure students have real choice that reflects their diverse needs, we must continue to open up the higher education market and put in place a regulatory framework that reflects today’s challenges.”

The idea of the development of new or much modified regulatory institutions that would, for example, take on the validation of degrees so that new providers do not need to partner with existing institutions would indeed open up the market. The question is, what sort of regulation, and how would it affect existing institutions? Martin Paul Eve of Birkbeck is clear in his blog that the aim is a huge financial shake-up of the whole system, using the proposed Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) as a key tool .

Participation

That is, widening participation (WP), remains firmly on the agenda with a plan to provide much better data so that work can be done to address issues around specific underrepresented groups. It is good news that WP is not being side-lined, which many thought might happen.

Teaching

There were some harsh words about the perceived variability of teaching quality in the speech;

“This patchiness in the student experience within and between institutions cannot continue. There is extraordinary teaching that deserves greater recognition. And there is lamentable teaching that must be driven out of our system. It damages the reputation of UK higher education and I am determined to address it.”

He went on to say;

“The new framework will aim to give students more information about the actual teaching they will receive, drive up student engagement with the learning process and reward universities that do most to stretch young – and also not so young – minds.”

On that last point, Johnson mentioned mature students in his speech but, as Mark Leach points out in his WonkHE blog, there is no reference to part time study. Indeed, there is nothing on postgraduate study either. The now much vaunted Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) is not one of the big words in the word cloud, because as yet there is no clarity at all as to what TEF will look like or how it will be managed. There is a lot of discussion. A Green Paper is due in the autumn (that is, by the end of December), so there is very little time to move from muddle to clarity, and, if other sources are right, to get TEF1 in place for 2016 and to produce metrics that inform funding decisions. These decisions would then allow some institutions to raise fees in line with inflation, based on what can only be a very crude measure of teaching quality.

 

Anne Qualter

Critical Pedagogy Against the Mass Market?

Last year, a small group of researchers at Liverpool set out to understand how principles of ‘critical pedagogy’ – the approach to teaching that insists students must play an active and leading role in their own learning strategies – are being implemented in the University of Liverpool.

The research focused upon a small number of modules that apply principles of critical pedagogy in that way students are assessed. It drew upon in-depth interviews with a sample of the staff members that co-ordinate eight modules in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences to explore how successfully those principles are applied in the assessment of those modules.

In our research we found a range of innovative and sometimes challenging ways that module leaders sought apply the core aims of critical pedagogy. We found a range of forms of assessment that:

  • allow the structure of learning to be defined by student learners’ lived reality, rather than a predetermined or designed structure.
  • encourage students to be ‘free learners’, able to challenge the physical and ideological structure of their pedagogical environment and relationships.
  • move students to action and involvement in the world in ways that promote and further the causes of social justice and democracy.

The module leaders we spoke to were committed to allowing students to challenge the dominant ways of reading the world, and to do so in a more open ways. The key motivation for others was to introduce to students an understanding of the social and political dimensions of their subject. There is evidence that such approaches to assessment are important for ensuring the engagement of a more diverse range of participants in education. Critical pedagogy approaches can be important to a widening participation agenda.

Continue reading Critical Pedagogy Against the Mass Market?

Funding Postgraduate Study in the UK: issues of widening participation and sustainability

On the 24th April 2015 Dr Martin Gough of the Educational Development Division, in his role as Convenor of the Society for Research into Higher Education (SRHE) Postgraduate Issues Network, organised the seminar, ‘Funding Postgraduate Study in the UK: issues of widening participation and sustainability’. You can find a report on this seminar in a recent issue of The Times Higher Education (no.2202, 7-13 May, p8) by Holly Else, ‘State-backed master’s loans: is an ‘own goal’ looming?’.

One of the issues raised at the seminar, and the focus of the THE report, concerned the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s plan to extend the student loans scheme to taught master’s provision. That would appear to be better than nothing but there is the potential for new problems arising from such a scheme.

One of the speakers, Tony Strike (University of Sheffield), explained how the separate HEFCE Postgraduate Support Scheme has been offering specific schemes for using funds. This is proving to be successful in encouraging historically under-represented groups of students to progress into the postgraduate level, with a view to enhanced access to the professions outside higher education. Meanwhile Paul Wakeling and Sally Hancock (University of York) explored the characteristics and perceptions of those generally who both do and do not progress into postgraduate taught study, and Brooke Storer-Church provided a brief response and update on HEFCE’s work in this area.

The THE report omits to mention the other speaker, Gill Clarke (UKCGE and University of Oxford), and her HEFCE-sponsored project on international comparisons on quality, access and employment outcomes in taught and also research postgraduate education. Gill was able to contribute more to the broader question of what characteristics will be more sustainable for a system of postgraduate education as a whole, to ensure adequate student numbers and the health of UK universities. One of the lessons arising out of the comparative study is the need for resources to support more flexible study patterns.

More details about the seminar, and speakers’ presentations, can be found here.

Martin Gough organised another seminar in this series earlier in the academic year on ‘Dimensions of well-being in postgraduate education’. Further information can be found here.

 

Towards an Inclusive Department

Many colleagues across the University will be aware of the University’s Access Agreement responsibilities.  The challenge of evaluating our Access Agreement is huge, with no steer from HEFCE and the complexities presented in the many facets of our Access Agreement work . . .  What form such an evaluation should take was a major headache.

Led by Dr. Mark O’Brien of the Centre for Lifelong Learning, working with Widening Participation champions from across the university as well as Educational Opportunities, the project has led to the development of an approach to evaluation which is at once appreciative and realistic aiming to inform our development as a university at strategic and operational level. The full report is available at http://www.liv.ac.uk/cll/reports, entitled ‘Widening Participation and Fair Access at the University of Liverpool by Dr Mark O’Brien’.

In this blog post I want to focus on the emerging theme of ‘the inclusive department’.  By asking individuals and groups to identify what in their professional experience are the key features of apparently successful departmental activities, and then using rigorous data analysis, drilling down to local level, the evaluator was able to confirm, explain or expand on many such professional insights. The result is a list of features (some of which are found in most areas, while no department would boast all of them).

Continue reading Towards an Inclusive Department