A greater policy focus on further education colleges could help to widen access to higher education in England, according to a new study.
The cross-national research, by academics at Columbia University and UCL Institute of Education/Birkbeck College, assesses how England and the US could tackle disparities in higher education access and success.
Published today, it concludes that although further education colleges account for roughly 8.5 per cent of higher education students in all institutions in England, they receive too little mention in recent government papers outlining proposals for higher education reform.
“For instance, they received only three mentions, and then only in passing, in the 2015 and 2016 government Green and White papers where the Conservative government outlined its proposals for higher education reform,” says the study.
Links between colleges and universities
It calls for the development of new “transfer agreements”, enabling movement from vocational training into a wide range of university first-degree programmes. Such agreements currently only apply to a small set of universities and so are limited in scope, says the research, which also recommends promoting links between further education colleges and highly selective universities.
It goes on to highlight that students in England with vocational qualifications have a higher risk of dropping out of university or not going to university at all.
Professor Claire Callender, from UCL Institute of Education/Birkbeck College, co-author of the study, said there was much to be learned from the US’ affirmative-action policies, which had 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.”