Narrowing Participation in Higher Education?:
evidence from Access Agreements' content
and discourse
Dr Colin McCaig
SRHE/UALL seminar 9th February 2015
University outreach activities and progression to
higher education
Access Agreements
• Established by Higher Education (2004) Act
• Agreements between institutions and Office for Fair Access
(OFFA)
• How additional fee income will be spent protecting access
for poorest and other underrepresented groups
• Where institutional policy on access and financial support
are outlined and rationalised
• OFFA and AAs have no influence on admissions to HE but
do set targets for efforts to encourage applications
• 2012 new AAs - more emphasis on benchmarks, on
retention and success (employability) for post92s
• Reflective and responsive to government policy
HE policy context
• 2009 end of long period of systemic growth
• 2010 election of a Coalition government - cuts
agenda
• 2010/11 market orientated policies
– higher fees (max now £9,000 pa)
– Student Number Control 'high grades' policy
– National Scholarship Programme
• The 'student as consumer' model based on
informed choice
New student support arrangements
• OFFA mandatory bursaries scrapped
• Institutions free to target support
• National Scholarship Programme added to the
mix
– allocated by student numbers, not by need
– large award (£3k) but all in Year 1 and only £1k in cash
bursary
– institutions had to match fund - so can support more
students OR same students more generously
• NSP awards are to be "targeted at bright
potential students from poor backgrounds" (BIS)
Widening participation in the new
regime
• Fees almost trebled- how to protect access for
the poorest?
• Repayment scheme made more progressive
• OFFA guidance - institutions should target
support at brightest of the poor
• How to identify the brightest of the poor?
• Access agreements - targets, milestones,
benchmarks and discourse
Comparative content analysis of 20
access agreements: 2006 & 2012
• 10 recruiting universities (post92s) and 10
selecting universities (pre92s);
• analysis repeated in 2012 to show change over
time and between institution types
• which underrepresented groups do institutions
offer financial support to?
• how much do they offer?
• which age and social groups are the focus of
outreach?
• variations by type - and movement over time
Findings from analysis
• Engagement with different age groups via
outreach (change 06-12)
• Engagement with different underrepresented
groups - outreach and transitional support,
retention, curricula development (change 0612)
• Financial support (change 06-12)
• Distortion impact of National Scholarship
Programme
Age group engagement 2006
12
10
8
Pre-92s
6
Post 92s
4
2
0
primary
secondary
16-18
16-19
Matures
Age group engagement 2012
12
10
8
Pre-92s
6
Post 92s
4
2
0
primary
secondary
16-18
16-19
Matures
Age group engagement: Overall
change 06-12
12
10
8
Pre06
Post06
6
Pre12
Post12
4
2
0
primary
secondary
16-18
16-19
Matures
Age group engagement: summary
• Both pre and post-92 institutions engage with
more age groups in 2012 than in 2006
• More emphasis on primary school age
(especially among pre92s)
• Less on 16-19 year olds
• Post-92s acting more like pre-92s (reverse for
matures)
• Suggests both types now focussing more on
high attainers (identify them early)
Social group engagement variation by
institution type 06-12
BME
Asylum
/
Disable
refugee
d
LAC
lower
SEC
LPN
Parents
/carers WBL
Total
pre 06
9
2
7
0
8
6
6
3
41
post
06
6
1
3
2
7
5
6
7
37
pre 12
8
-
10
9
6
9
8
3
53
post
12
3
-
8
9
8
7
6
6
47
Social group engagement variation by
institution type 06-12
12
10
8
pre 06
post 06
6
pre 12
post 12
4
2
0
BME
Asylum refugee
Disab
LAC
lower SEC
LPN
Parents/carers
WBL
Social group summary
• Catch-up by pre-92s (LAC, LPN, parents/carers)
• Benchmark effect? - post-92s generally
overachieve against them
• Overall decline in engagement with BME
groups (some not underrepresented)
• More focus on socio-economic indicators
Financial support: NSP
• Additional fee income (over the OFFA threshold fee,
was £1k now £6k)
• All have to sign up to National Scholarship Programme.
National eligibility - RHI <£25k
• awards of £3k, all in Y1
– bursary (max £1k)
– fee waiver
– services
• Match funded element of NSP
– can be used over all 3 years
• Additional eligibility criteria if required (oversupply)
NSP scheme elements
10
9
8
7
6
pre-92
5
post-92
4
3
2
1
0
Bursary
Fee waiver
Services
B&F&S
F&S
B&S
Match funded element
How the money was spent - Variations
• 5 pre92s doubled the value of award
• 1 post92 doubled the value of the award
• 5 post 92s doubled the allocation
• 2 post92s more than doubled the allocation
= pre92s targeting at the few, post92s
supporting more of poorer cohort
Typology of eligibility criteria by
institution type
20
18
16
14
12
Post92
10
Pre92
8
6
4
2
0
Need
Merit
Course
Local
Additional financial support: other
• Institutions can spend over and above NSP to
support poorest students
• 2006 AAs pre92s spent more in bursaries and
scholarships that post92s
– but on less recipients
• 2012 AAs same pattern but even less support
for poorest in post92s unless they were in
receipt of NSP award
Financial support: other
• Old regime - all qualifying (RHI <£25k) received at least £300 a
year (average bursary £1,625 for pre92s, £865 for post92s)
plus scholarships for specified groups (AFS)
• 2012 regime - 8 of the 10 pre92 agreements show that AFS is
available to all students that qualify, with maximum support in
the range of £2000-£5500
• Support for all that meet the RHI cut off has increased for all
but two pre92s giving average net gain of £1125 per year over
the previous system.
• Among post-92s the picture is very different with none of the
sample offering basic financial support for all students that
qualify by RHI.
Financial support - headlines
• Relatively few poor students more heavily supported at pre92
institutions than under the previous bursary regime
• NSP has distorted support spending at post92 institutions
• Pre92s more likely to offer fee waivers than cash bursaries
• Post92s more likely than pre92s to offer bursaries and
discounts for services
• Match funding - pre92s double value of award, post92s
double allocation
• Eligibility - post92s more likely use eligibility criteria as 40% of
students qualify by RHI
• Post92 eligibility focus mostly on need (19 schemes) but 5 (of
30) schemes reward merit
• AFS post92 students are big losers
Discourse analysis
Discourse analysis
• Fairclough (1993) discourse as a mode of
action used as a market positioning device
• Bernstein (2000) - classification - used here to
differentiate institutional types (e.g. 'worldclass' universities)
• Ball (1990) 'social appropriation' of discourses
by institutions
• Gibbs and Knapp (2002) 'choice sets'
Post92 focus shift - from the institution
to the individual
Inst
2006/7
2012/13
post2
We are a ground-breaking and
distinctive higher education institution,
whose vision is
• to combine academic rigour with
vocational relevance;
• to work in partnership with other
providers and the public and private
sectors,
• to make a substantial contribution to
meeting the higher level knowledge and
skills needs of the [region] and beyond.
The University’s mission is to ‘unlock the
potential within individuals and
organisations through the excellence and
responsiveness of our teaching, research and
student support’. The University is
committed to part-time, vocational and
professional education; widening
participation and extending educational
opportunities to mature students and other
under-represented
groups; and to the teaching of, and research
in, science, technology, engineering and
mathematics, in particular.
Post92 focus shift - from the institution
to the individual
Inst
2006/7
2012/13
post7
Access, progression, student
achievement and employment are all
central to the University’s raison
d'être and have been for well over a
century…. A teaching-led University
with a strong commitment to applied
research, the University today is
seeking to build on its proud record
of service … and on its traditional
strengths in vocational and
professional education
[The] University has a history of supporting
access to advanced education, which
stretches back to its foundation. ….
Today, our mission statement reflects that:
We are about creating opportunity for our
students and equipping them to become
highly successful in their chosen field. Our
focus is on the professions. Widening
participation is achieved by delivering success
for our students. We can help create the best
possible opportunities for our students to
succeed.
Post92 focus shift - from the institution
to the individual
Inst
post8
2006/7
2012/13
We have exciting plans for the next few
years. Building on our current strengths, we
aim to engage with our students and
customers and to offer them the products,
skills and opportunities they need to
succeed. We recognise that this means that
our academic provision will need to be
market sensitive and that the location, time
and methods of delivery will reflect and
support the needs of our increasingly diverse
and inclusive community. By this opening up
of opportunities we will liberate, for the
economy and for society, the talents and
skills of thousands of graduates every year.
The University is committed to ensure that students
have access to an education which will be valid and
relevant to them as individual learners. We recognise
that a diverse range of students require diverse
learning styles and support structures. …. the
University makes the following core commitment to
widening participation and diversity:
‘Offer a diverse range of learning opportunities that
suit individual needs and are designed to attract a
much wider social mix.’
…. We aim to offer an exciting and worthwhile
student experience on courses which gives students:
practical work experience opportunities during their
course of study opportunities to gain the right tools to
enter the world of work upon
graduation.
Post92 focus shift - from employment
to 'the professions'
Inst
2006/7
2012/13
post5
The University …. is a teaching and
learning led university that places
students’ needs first. We are proud of
our record in widening participation
to higher education with a highly
socially inclusive student population.
This is combined with high levels of
student achievement and success in
graduate employment.
At the University … a key part of our mission is
“to deliver an accessible and inspirational
learning experience … and
to engage fully with employers and the
community”. Our “strap line” is “inspiring
tomorrow's professionals”. To achieve this
mission, and to live up to our brand promise,
we seek to support every student through
every stage of their personal “student
journey”, from supporting their first decision
to consider higher education as an option,
through application, enrolment, their learning
experience, engagement with professions,
and trajectory into work and further study.
Post92 focus shift - from diversity to
employability
Inst
2006/7
2012/13
Post3
The University uses the term ‘widening
participation’ in its broadest sense and
encompasses dimensions such as race,
social class, age, gender, sexuality and
disability. It also relates to the whole
student experience of HE, ranging from
pre-entry through to progression,
achievement and employment. …. The
University has a diverse student
population. One of its shared values … is
‘respect for diversity amongst members
and prospective members of its
community’.
We will ensure the accessibility of all our courses
through a comprehensive programme of support
that starts in local primary schools and extends
to assisting our graduates into their chosen
professional careers. …. The University …. has a
long‐standing and well evidenced commitment to
widening participation and fair access.
Post92 focus shift- from access to
retention and employability
Inst
2006/7
2012/13
Post4
Widening Participation has been a
leading mission for the University [...]
for 15 years, reflected in an ongoing
Strategy for Widening Participation
which underpins the Corporate Plan,
and is reviewed and revised annually.
The University will maintain its commitment to
delivering fair and facilitative access and
progression arrangements as part of its overall
commitment to widening participation. Activity
relating to retention, achievement and
employability already forms part of our holistic
approach to widening participation, as detailed
in the University’s Widening Participation
Strategic Assessment (WPSA)
Post92 focus shift - from regional to
national
Inst
2006/7
2012/13
post1
[The] University is proud of its
record over more than 160 years of
offering opportunities to participate
in higher education to those who
have traditionally been excluded.
This central tenet of [our] Mission
will continue to be of huge
importance as opportunities are
offered to students from low
participation neighbourhoods in
[the borough and wider region],
those with disabilities and those
from ethnic minorities
As [the] University has developed its strategy for
student recruitment to move from being a subregional provider to a national provider, it has, in
keeping with its [mission] targeted …. schools in
cities across England whose pupil intake reflects
many of the widening participation target groups
Post92 - challenges of the new regime:
Inst
post5
2006/7
2012/13
The University has performed well in
terms of recruiting regionally and
especially from low-income groups
and local ethnic-minority
communities. Despite sector-wide
growth in these areas, further
improvement has been achieved with
the result that we continue to exceed
the benchmarks. The scope for
further improvement is now more
limited.
The change in University funding, in which the
balance of the cost of studying has
been largely shifted from the State to the
graduate, may become a major challenge
to widening participation and through it to
increasing upward social mobility. …….
research also suggests that changes to the
national funding model may also change the
relative demand for particular programmes
and specific institutions. In response we have
reviewed our portfolio, and withdrawn
degree programmes which our research
suggests will not fare well in the new
environment.
Post92 summary
• from the institution to the individual's
learning opportunities; student experiences;
student journeys
• from accessing work to 'the professions'
• from access and diversity to retention, success,
employability
• from widening access to upward social
mobility
• Challenges of the new regime - course closures
Pre92 - from international to global
Pre1
2006/7
2012/13
The University’s commitment to
widening participation is enshrined
within its mission statement. ‘We will
continue to serve [the City and Region]
region using our skills and knowledge
and drawing on our international
reputation to promote social and
cultural well-being and to aid economic
growth and regeneration. We will
continue the tradition of making a
university education available to the
members of any community able to
benefit from it.’
The University […] offers an inspirational
student experience at a selective leading
global University. We are proud of our
strong outreach and retention record that
has been built up over a long period of
time, and which places us in the vanguard
of the Russell Group. .... We intend to
expand our flagship [Access to] scheme
beyond the [region]; and are seeking to
expand our [..] progressive programmes
which work with Gifted and Talented
widening participation students over the
course of their secondary education.
Pre92 - building up that track record
pre2
2006/7
2012/13
The University […] has an ambitious Education
Strategy, which aims to provide a world-class
student educational experience.... the University
is committed to having a student body that is
diverse in terms of background and experience,
with all the cultural and educational benefits that
this brings. This commitment has been reflected
in a longstanding and active programme of
widening participation. The University’s first
strategy for widening participation was published
in 1999
The University […]’s Access Agreement is founded
on a two-fold commitment to: - Sustained
enhancement of the educational experience of
our students - Widening participation in Higher
Education in general and to [City] in particular ….
The University […] has an ambitious Education
Strategy, which aims to provide a worldclass
student educational experience... the University
[…] is committed to having a student body that is
diverse in terms of background and experience,
with all the cultural and educational benefits that
this brings. This commitment has been reflected in
a longstanding and active programme of widening
participation. The University’s first strategy for
widening participation was published in 1999
Pre92 - building up that track record
pre6
2006/7
2012/13
Objectives: The [University's] overwhelming
objective when designing its new package of
financial support was to maintain and, if
possible, to encourage an increase in, the
number of applications from good
candidates from poorer backgrounds…. We
aim to increase applications from state
schools by five percentage points by 2009. It
is worth underlining, however, that we will
not increase the intake of students from such
groups unless the applicants meet our highly
competitive entry criteria
[The University] is committed to widen access
to higher education in general and to
[university] in particular. ‘Engagement’
remains one of the strategic priorities of our
five-year Strategic Plan and widening
participation is one of the key tenets of our
engagement policy. [The university] faces
specific challenges relating to the suitability
of A level choices ….. However, we are
pleased with the progress made towards our
benchmarks for state school, low socioeconomic and low participation
neighbourhood students. We aim to build
upon the success of recent years, by reaching
more pre-university students from a wider
cross section of society and continuing to
recruit students from these
underrepresented groups to [the university]
Pre92 - the problem of squaring
excellence with access
Inst
2006/7
2012/13
pre3
It remains the University’s policy to admit
UK students of the highest academic
calibre and potential irrespective of
financial or other non-academic
considerations. However, as a leading
international university, [this university]
attracts high quality applicants from the
rest of the EU and further afield. …. Entry
to [this university] typically requires a
minimum of three grade As in
appropriate GCE A Level subjects (or
their equivalent). There is a large pool of
qualified applicants and competition is
rigorous: in 2003, only 28% of c.11,000
U.K. applicants could be accepted.
The standard A-level offer for entry to [this
university] is currently advertised as A*AA.
There is a large pool of qualified applicants
and competition is rigorous: in 2009-10, only
24% of c.13,000 applicants from UK schools
and colleges could be accepted, and of those
accepted over 93% exceeded the standard
offer (the average number of A*s achieved by
entrants was 2.5).
Pre92 focus - quality must be
maintained
Inst
2006/7
2012/13
pre3
We are also mindful of the
implications of the difficulties being
experienced by the state sector in
student take up and teaching
provision in a number of subjects
which are critical for entry into many
of our courses, including modern
languages, mathematics and physical
science subjects.
We are also mindful of the implications of the
difficulties being experienced by the state
sector in student take-up and teaching
provision in a number of subjects that are
critical for entry into many of our courses,
including modern languages, mathematics
and physical science subjects. Additionally
and as noted by the Russell Group, a lower
proportion of state-sector students overall
achieve top grades compared with those in
the independent sector, and state sector
students are less likely to apply to selective
universities.
Pre92 - the regional role becomes a
'civic virtue'
Inst
pre8
2006/7
2012/13
The University is particularly concerned to
contribute to educational excellence in the
region
The University […] has a long tradition of
raising aspiration and supporting
achievement by working with young people,
teachers, schools and colleges across [the
City and Region] and beyond
Inst
pre7
2006/7
2012/13
(no statement on regional
focus)
Our University Mission is to be a world-class research-intensive
university ... and to play a leading role in the economic, social and
cultural development of the [Region]. As a world-class civic university,
our aim is to marry excellence with relevance and to respond to the
needs and demands of civil society. We see our activities in WP and fair
access as a natural consequence of our aims and values. ...... As a civic
university which engages fully with our community, the city and the
region, we have been working for the past 18 years with schools and
colleges in the [region] to promote progression, participation and
flexible access.
More civic virtue
Inst
Pre9
2006/7
2012/13
The University […] has a long-standing
commitment to widening participation and
fair access, not only to its own programmes
of study, but also to the HE experience in
general.
The University will: contribute to the
[regional] Aimhigher initiative to improve
the performance of pupils at GCSE level …
The University [and a local post92 university]
also work closely as part of the [regional]
Aimhigher partnership, offering
complementary activities. The two
universities are working towards the
presentation of co-ordinated guidance to
local schools and colleges about the range of
outreach activities offered across the region
from both institutions
The University […] has a long-standing
commitment to widening participation and fair
access, not only to its own programmes of
study, but also to higher education in general.
.... This strongly reflects the ... foundation on
which the University was built: The University
[…] has roots going back …. and was founded
formally …. via penny donations from the local
citizens. The University is proud of its origins
and continues to value the role it has come to
play in its city and region. The University
continues to play a key role within the city and
the region and has a strong sense of civic
responsibility.
Discourse shifting? Pre-1992s
Pre 2006
Pre 2012
Quality, excellence, inviolability of entry
requirements
Difficulties of improving access and maintaining quality
Robbins principle (all those who can benefit should have access);
Regional role, partnerships (Aimhigher)
Civic virtue and responsibility (leadership)
International reputation; National and
international recruitment
Global excellence; world league table rankings
Little interest in access - no track record
Track record of access measures; Benchmarking
performance against similar institutions
Discourse shifts? Post-1992s
Post 2006
Post 2012
Institution focussed
Individualised focus on how good they are for the 'student as
consumer'
Diversity of student body an aim and celebrated;
Welcoming and student friendly
Retention and success are the main focus of access
expenditure
Flexible Vocational provision; Ties to the local labour
market
Employability, links to 'the professions'
Local and Regional focus
Regional and National focus for recruitment
Bursaries for all; Outreach focussed on raising
aspirations for all
Merit aid (financial support for those with higher ability) merit
and subject specific targeted outreach
Summary
• Content analysis suggests some convergence in outreach
engagement over time
• This convergence is closer to original Pre92 position targeting high attainers
• Poorer students at Post92s are less well supported
financially under new regime
• Discourse analysis supports this - Post92s have made the
more radical departures
– retention and success; employability; broadening geographical
recruitment
• Pre92s less movement – enhanced quality; civic leadership role
• Both HEI types agree on the challenge of widening
participation in the new climate
Discussion: how is marketisation
playing out?
• Potential impact of expanding student places
on these trends...
• Are HEIs in general abandoning diversity,
vocationalism, work-based learning to FE and
alternative providers?
• Is the English HE system becoming more/less
differentiated?
• What does equity mean in a less diverse
system?
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