At the forefront of the minds’ of those working in education at the minute are the responses to the Pandemic. While we await the government response to Augar, there is a range of data emerging about the changing nature of the labour market and the need to offer re-training opportunities. There is no doubt that the furlough scheme has prevented some of the harshest effects of the pandemic, but the government are still releasing over £300 million for the targeted National Skills Fund to encourage people to gain level 3 qualifications in ‘priority sectors’. These courses are ‘free’ and designed as part of the government’s response to the pandemic. These programmes may of course lead to further higher education opportunities for adults to support their re-training. Close followers of the data relating to training will know that the reforms to HE funding that led to higher fees will recall the drop in part time and adult higher education in favour of a more focused approached for full time 18 year old students.
However, there has been a route into higher education for adult students which has been constant through all this period – that is Access to HE. These programmes support adults to come to higher education in a range of different disciplines. Thousands of people each year undertake these programmes, and given that Advanced Learner Loans that students can take out to pay their tuition, once they have a HE qualification this loan is written off. There are so many people that could describe their situation at the opportunity Access to HE has brought. One recent submission to FACE said:
“My name is Shelby Green. Before attending the Access to HE course, I found myself unable to find a job that would fit my life as a mum due to a lack of qualifications. The Access to HE Health Sciences course at Sheffield College opened up so many opportunities for me, which I previously thought were unobtainable due to my age. Whilst at college, I had fantastic support from my personal tutor when applying and transitioning to university. I am now completing my final year of my undergraduate, graduating with a Bachelors of Medical Science and have applied for a postgraduate course in Mental Health Nursing. Throughout the Access course and my undergraduate, I have received brilliant support from educators and peers, whether with academics or personal issues. The Access to HE course ensured I could better my education, create new career opportunities and provide a better life for myself and my family.”
Access to HE really is social mobility in action, in a space where Further and Higher Education collaborate. While Access to HE courses may not form part of the National Skills Fund (in part because of the benefits of Advanced Learner Loan write-offs) they provide a model for how level 3 progression can be supported for adult students. As widening participation activity increasingly focuses on responses to the pandemic – either through changes to admissions, practices or policy, Access to HE programmes will continue to shine as beacon of opportunity for people wanting to gain HE qualifications.