Wider access should start with FE

16th January 2004 at 00:00
Collaboration to Widen Participation in Higher Education Edited by Liz Thomas, Michael Cooper and Jocey Quinn. Published by Trentham Books ISBN 1-85856-280-5 pound;15.99

This book is dedicated to Maggie Woodrow, founder and first executive director of the European Access Network, who died in 2001. Maggie was devoted to increasing opportunity for those from less privileged backgrounds.

The first part of the book takes some national perspectives, with chapters on work in Ireland, Sweden, Lithuania, South Africa and the US, as well as England. Part two includes eight case studies on methods of widening participation. Both parts are largely concerned with collaborative programmes within or between institutions of higher education.

Four models of collaboration are identified: the Los Angeles "Pyramid", heavily dependent on US community colleges; the Utrecht "Bridge", in which secondary, further, adult and vocational education providers are seen as equal partners; the Cork "Spider", a regional network aiming at attitudinal and systemic change; and the Melbourne "Marriage", around the creation of a "dual sector" university through the combination of a technological university and an institute of technical and further education.

But there is little mention of the FE system in England: no detailed analysis of any collaborative schemes. There are several which are important to English targets, including that based on Staffordshire university, from which three of the contributors to this book come. There is only one reference to foundation degrees and only one to Open College Networks and credit systems, despite the essential contribution these make to English access programmes. Sarah Williams, in the final chapter, points to the contribution that FE colleges can make to successful partnerships.

This is an interesting, if overly university-centric book, with valuable comparative studies and analyses of contrasting attempts to increase participation.

In his tribute to Maggie Woodrow, Leslie Wagner remarks that "her involvement with wider access began in the unlikely setting of Harrow college of further education". Not at all unlikely, Leslie. That is where most wider access starts: in FE, with enthusiasts.

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