Researching Widening Access to Lifelong Learning: Issues and Approaches in International Research

Researching Widening Access to Lifelong Learning: Issues and Approaches in International Research

Researching Widening Access to Lifelong Learning: Issues and Approaches in International Research

Researching Widening Access to Lifelong Learning: Issues and Approaches in International Research

Synopsis

This authoritative volume is a truly international contribution to the worldwide debate on how best to widen access to lifelong learning. The first section of the book comprises research studies from around the world, reflecting the diversity of contexts in which widening access is researched and considers issues central to the access debate, including different understandings of the concept of access, organisational and structural change, curriculum development, entry policies, performance and retention and labour market outcomes. The second section illustrates diverse and innovative methodological approaches that have been employed by researchers in the field, and considers the range of approaches available. Given the growing concern around the world on the need to combat social exclusion and to improve economic circumstances through access to lifelong learning, this book acts as a unique reference point informing the ongoing debate, exploring the relationships between research, policy and practice.

Excerpt

An overview

Peter Scott

The aim of this chapter is to provide an overview of research into widening access. But the topic itself-research into widening access-contains within it a tension, if not a contradiction. On the one hand, widening access has become a dominant policy preoccupation. Higher education in England is embarking on a third wave of expansion, on a scale that is equivalent to and potentially outstrips the first wave associated with the Robbins report in the mid-1960s and the second wave unleashed by the abandonment of the binary system between 1988 and 1992. The target is 50 per cent participation for 30-year-olds and younger by 2010, even if the target has been downplayed in recent ministerial statements. Widening participation is the key motif of this third wave. If Scottish higher education has not been set a specific expansion target, this is because an 'access' perspective has already been wholeheartedly accepted. On the other hand, research into widening access is still an emerging rather than a mature research field. It remains a sub-set of a wider research field, post-compulsory education, which is itself something of a poor relation of educational research which, in turn, has had to fight hard to gain and maintain academic respectability.

There can be no doubt about the growing importance of 'access' as a policy domain-and, in particular, of widening participation. It has moved from the margins of policy to the mainstream, challenging (if not yet superseding) the dominance of research, and is increasingly embroiled with debates about the future funding of higher education. The 50 per cent target is derived from a commitment in the Labour Party's Manifesto for the 2001 General Election-the only substantial reference to higher education in that document. It is one of the key performance indicators for the Department of Education and Skills. Widening participation has been identified by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) as one of four core areas (the others are teaching and learning, research and out-reach to business and the community) in which all higher education institutions are expected to engage. Indeed HEFCE approval of institutional strategies, and action plans, for widening participation has now been made a condition of grant-following a decision by the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council (SHEFC) to impose a similar condition a year earlier.

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