Access game changers: the potential of FE Colleges

The role of FE colleges [FECs] in widening HE access has attracted an increasing amount of attention in recent months. Indeed, they feature prominently in the new phase of Uni Connect, which is a government funded collaborative outreach programme overseen by England’s HE regulator (Office for Students, 2021). And for good reason since they are major recruiters of students from areas of educational disadvantage, including those pursuing pre-HE (level 3) courses but what widening access initiatives are likely to be effective with FE students?  This subject has preoccupied myself and many other members of FACE – for a number of years now. One recent research project that I was commissioned to conduced affords some valuable insights (Raven, 2020). Supported by DANCOP, the Uni Connect consortium for Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, this study gathered evidence from tutors and students at two large FE colleges in the East Midlands (Raven, 2021 and 2019). Whilst the findings draw attention to a number of current outreach activities, alongside ideas for new initiatives, they also highlight the role that colleges as HE providers can and could play.

 

Outreach activities

 

Prominent in discussions with both tutors and students was the support provided in ‘guiding students through the university application process’ (Raven, 2021, 86). This included help with planning and composing personal statements, as well as the provision of information and advice on student finance. In exploring areas where additional support could be offered, reference was made to training in HE-associated skills, amongst them assignment preparation and time management, as well as insights into student life and information on the kinds of study support provided by universities (Raven, 2021). The students surveyed also expressed an interest in visiting some local universities in order to witness first-hand the subject-based facilities provided.

 

In-reach initiatives

 

Both tutors and students talked positively about the opportunities made available to them to learn about the HE programmes their own colleges offered. These included the chance to talk with those who had been on the same level 3 courses as them and were now studying higher-level programmes in similar fields. Reference was also made to ‘open evenings which enabled current FE students to see the ‘college’s HE facilities’ (Raven, 2021, 89). Beyond this, suggestions were made for ‘HE subject tasters’ which would provide an insight into what it would be like to study at higher level. Ideally, it was added, there should be an opportunity for potential HE students to experience a range of subjects of interest.

 

In a contribution to the most recent edition of the annual FACE publication (Baldwin, Raven, Webber-Jones, 2020), it is argued that FECs hold the key to the ‘transformation change’ in widening access that the OfS (2019, n.p.) seeks (see also Raven, 2021, 95). By capitalising on their unique duel-sector role of providing further and higher education programmes, the potential of FE college to be access game-changers could be realised.

 

If you are interested in finding out more about this research of our work with FE colleges, please contact Neil at neil.d.raven@gmail.com.

 

References

 

Baldwin, J., N. Raven and R. Weber-Jones, 2020, ‘Access ‘Cinderellas’: further education colleges as engines of transformational change’, in S. Broadhead, J. Butcher,  E. Davison, W. Fowle, M Hill, L. Martin, S. Mckendry, F. Norton, N. Raven, B. Sanderson and S. Wynn Williams (eds). Delivering the Public Good of Higher Education: Widening Participation, Place and Lifelong Learning, London: Forum for Access and Continuing Education, 107-126.

 

Office for Students. 2019. Our New Approach to Access and Participation, https://www.officeforstudents.org.uk/newapproachtoap/.

 

Raven. N. 2021. ‘Making a difference: insights into effective HE progression practices in further education colleges’, Widening Participation and Lifelong Learning, 23 (1): 79-101.

 

Raven, N. (2019a) Further Education Colleges and Widening Access. Understanding and Addressing the Progression Challenge for Level 3 Learners from WP Backgrounds. Unpublished research report for the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire Collaborative Outreach Programme.

 

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