Further education in England needs more policy attention, says study
10 August 2017
Widening participation goals in higher education would be improved if further education colleges in England were given more policy attention, according to a new study by the Centre for Global Higher Education (CGHE) at the UCL Institute of Education (IOE).
This is one of a number of policy lessons from a cross-national comparison focusing on how England and the US could reduce social class and racial/ethnic differences in higher education access and success.
The study states that for both countries, goals of widening participation in higher education by class and race/ethnicity are hampered by sharp inequalities in access to higher education, entrance into the most selective institutions, graduation from higher education, and economic success post-graduation. The authors make a number of policy recommendations for both England and the US.
In England, the study argues that although further education colleges account for roughly 8.5 per cent of higher education students in all institutions in England, they received too little mention in recent government papers outlining proposals for higher education reform. Under both Labour and Conservative governments, attention has focused instead on greater access for disadvantaged students to selective universities, particularly the Russell Group.
As students in England with vocational qualifications have a higher risk of dropping out of university or choosing not to go to university at all, the study recommends the development of ‘transfer agreements’, enabling movement from vocational training into a wide range of university first-degree programmes. Currently, such agreements only apply to a small set of universities and so are limited in scope. The study also recommends promoting linkages between further education colleges and highly selective universities.
The study warns of the risks of expanding England’s for-profit higher education sector. The UK government has called for an expansion of alternative providers of higher education, including for-profits, to stimulate greater competition. But support for for-profit colleges has been declining in the US in recent years, and the country has had to develop a regulatory structure to reconcile government provision of financial aid to students attending for-profit colleges and the dangers of poor quality provision by those institutions.
Another recommendation is that England increase its use of need-based grant aid in the form of bursaries and scholarships. Evidence shows that working class and minority students are wary of taking out loans, even if repayment is on an income-contingent basis.
Additional recommendations for England include a greater policy focus on school decisions (as these shape future higher education opportunities), and a reconsideration of what constitutes merit in university admission.
In the US, the study recommends making more use of income-contingent loans to address the country’s funding crisis. US graduates owe $1.3 trillion in student loans, and seven million borrowers are in default.
The US would also benefit from following England in the use of access agreements, the study argues. These govern the outreach efforts of universities, encouraging them to make more extensive efforts to reach students in secondary and primary school, and in England are overseen by the public non-governmental Office for Fair Access to Higher Education (the Office for Students from April 2018).
Professor Claire Callender from the UCL Institute of Education and co-author of the study said:
“There is much to be learnt from the US’ affirmative action policies which have helped create more diverse student bodies, especially at selective colleges and universities. In England, discussion about contextualised admissions at such universities focuses on the benefits of diversity for social mobility and social justice. This is important in the US too, but far greater attention is paid to the benefits of exposing more privileged students to alternative social perspectives and to the pedagogical benefits of diversity."
Professor Kevin J. Dougherty from Columbia University and co-author of the study said:
“England and the US have many similarities, but also instructive dissimilarities, with respect to their policies for higher education access and success. Because of this, each country can learn a lot from the other with regard to reducing social class and racial/ethnic differences in higher education access and success.”
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- Read the paper
- Centre for Global Higher Education (CGHE)
- Professor Claire Callender’s research profile
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