Contextualised approaches to widening participation

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Transcript Contextualised approaches to widening participation

Contextualised approaches to
widening participation:
A comparative case study of two UK
Rohini Corfield, John Rose-Adams
and John Butcher
Overall Research Project
At a time of unprecedented uncertainty in the
UK HE sector, we sought to understand how
two contrasting universities were engaging
strategically with widening participation.
Questions areas
impact and
value for
Future of
UK context: ‘Golden age’ of WP over?
New targeted funding
streams (outreach and
Devolved governments
– divergent approaches
50% participation target
(in England)
80% cut in teaching
Coalition government
New Labour government
Generous resources in
pursuit of a national
strategy - expansion of
HE student numbers
accelerating shift from
public to private
funding via trebling of
student fees
termination of funding
for access and outreach
Concepts and terms associated with
‘widening participation’
Social Justice?
Widening Participation
Gained degree awarding powers
Only UK university dedicated to
distance learning
150,000 undergraduates & 30,000
postgraduates (70% in f/t
employment, 20% study from
outside UK, 10% BME, 7% with a
E-learning central to course
New VC with significant
international business leadership
Open access policy: mission to
promote social justice
University of Northampton
The Open University
The Institutions
Gained degree awarding powers
Strong recognition ‘transforming
lives’ in mission
Ranked first for ‘added value’
14,000 FTE students (42% mature,
28% p/t, 25% BME, 5%
international, 7% with a disability)
6 Academic Schools
4 Strategic Partner colleges
New VC, new strategic business
plan, new metrics, new social
enterprise USP
Limited literature addressing institutional responses to WP:
• Thomas et al (2010) ‘WP implementation may not be the
same as institutions say in their strategies’
• Action on Access (2009) ‘for some institutions, WP is
intimately connected to their mission in terms of recruiting
sufficient student numbers...’
• Greenbank (2006) ‘WP policy ‘migrates’ from government
to institutional policy ...differences in organisational culture
mean different policy responses emerge’
• Stevenson et al (2010) ‘WP an unstable amalgam of
economic rationality & social justice: personal values
• Graham (2010) !!!
• Comparative case study
• Senior Stakeholder interviews
• Same semi-structured question areas used across both
• Stakeholders saw question areas in advance
• Northampton: VC, PVC, all 6 Deans = 8
• OU: Nation Directors, Heads and Directors of Units,
including E&D, student services, WP, government relations
• 45 minutes, digitally recorded, researcher transcribed
• Analysis of key themes, shared categories of interpretation
Findings 1 – Shifting discourse, confusion
and clarity
University of Northampton
• “WA is about recruitment and promotion... WP is what we do
with the students when they are here. We can make a
difference through course design, progression, study skills etc.
We need to be careful that support is available to all students
– tutors cannot tell the backgrounds of their students so it is
wrong to assume that specific groups can be targeted.”
• “I’m probably a bit vague on that....they probably seem the
same thing to some people and different things to different
• “I still think people don’t know what WP is…”
Findings 1 – Shifting discourse, confusion
and clarity
Open University clarity?
• “They are part of the same thing for me. I think the days are
long gone when we just thought getting people into an
institution equalled widening participation of access and
actually student success has got to be an integral part of it”
• “...we have a responsibility to those students who we have
encouraged to access this institution to be successful as they
can be and therefore the strategy is not about maximising the is actually about the success of those students,
probably in equal measure”
But conflict at Nations level, and concerns of following
funding streams.
Findings 2 - WP as a discredited discourse
• “If I am honest the WP branding is a problem. We need to be
aspirational, and WP doesn’t help with that...” (UN)
• “I do find the language a bit tired now. I know we use WP as smacks of a very noughties/late nineties... my feeling
is that there are huge changes around the sector around what
WP means...if it survives as a word...” (UN)
• “I think WP has too much baggage associated with it now as a
phrase”. (UN)
• “Maybe we ought not have a WP strategy and maybe we
ought to have a strategy around inclusion and then people
might start to do a little more work around this area.” (OU)
Findings 3 - Measuring impact: Societal
• “The real impact is seeing whether what we are doing is a
making a difference to society. The raison d’etre for us being
here is to have an impact on society – in terms of
employability it would be good to say that the University’s
alumni are creating knowledge, affecting the economy,
especially if we have this data for WP students. We know we
are widening access and participation – are these students
having an impact?” (UN)
Findings 3 - Measuring impact: Institutional
• “Four key measures – recruitment, retention,
progression and achievement which we have control
over…We get ourselves tied up trying to measure
things we can’t.” (UN)
• “[T]he students’ view of the impact for them is key but
it is very, very qualitative so we are never going to be
looking at that at the [senior management meetings],
but somebody does need to see our evaluations of
interventions, that kind of thinking needs to be
happening and obviously that information fed up” (OU)
• “[L]ook at the broad picture and then drill down where
we think is necessary.” (OU)
Findings 3 - Measuring impact: individual
• “Who’s actually measuring us? Students are paying.” (UN)
• “We haven’t systematically singled WP students out to kind of
monitor their progress through the stages of their learning
journey on a module or qualification route…I’d like us to move
to a position where we understand the WP student journey.”
• “We’re only going to make so much progress while we’re
looking at groups, we need to look at the level of the
individual....needs an individual tracking agenda.....students
need to complete well, not just be retained.” (UN)
Findings 4 - Institutional leadership of
WP and the role of the Faculty
• UN senior leadership of WP at Faculty level: 6
(Disciplinary focus, curriculum level activity clear)
• OU senior leadership of WP outside Faculty
(Support focus, generic approaches, systematic?)
1. Senior staff ideological commitment necessary but not
sufficient – staff diversity an issue, institutional mission
critical, and translation to practice – “a bloody nightmare”.
2. Impact, evidence and evaluation – more, more, more.
Changed locus of impact measurement – shift from public
accountability to private Value for Money
3. If, as Stevenson et al (2010) suggest, widening participation is
a ‘confusion of tongues’...then no reason why not to select a
new terminology: If it is broke, do fix it.
Discussion prompts
• In your experience, has WP as a term become
• Where should WP be located in a HEI for
maximum impact?
• What quantitative and qualitative measures of
student success do you currently use?
• Has stakeholder interview methodology
yielded insightful data?
Contact details
John Butcher,
[email protected]
Rohini Corfield,
[email protected]
John Rose-Adams,
[email protected]
Action on Access (2009) Report to the Higher Education Funding Council for
England: Mainstreaming and Sustaining Widening Participation in Institutions,
Final report, September 2009, available from (accessed 27 May 2011)
Greenbank, P (2006) Widening participation higher education: researching
institutional responses, Widening Participation and Lifelong Learning, 8(3), 47-51
Jones, R. (2008) New to widening participation? An overview of research. Available
w_to_WP_complete_synthesis [Accessed May 6, 2011].
Stevenson, J., Clegg, S. & Lefever, R., (2010) The discourse of widening
participation and its critics: an institutional case study. London Review of
Education, 8(2), p.105. Available at:
7328 [Accessed March 22, 2011].
Thomas, L, Storan, J, Wylie, V, Berzins, K, Harley, P, Linley, R, Rawson (2009) A
Review of Widening Participation Strategic Assessments 2009, available at
As%20%282009%29%20-%20November%202010.pdf (accessed 17 June 2011)