Pallavi Amitava Banerjee, University of Exeter
The HEPI report, ‘Reaching the parts of society universities have missed: A manifesto for the new Director for Fair Access and Participation’ summarises a collection of action points for the new Office for Students on unlocking access to higher education.
Sharing a similar agenda, as discussed in our blog last month, the Transforming transitions project aims to investigate the experiences and outcomes of one such group of overlooked students – those who move from vocational to higher education (HE).
BTECs theorise on learning-by-doing. These qualifications are closely linked to work-based scenarios. Yet a growing number of students taking up these courses in Further education colleges are now moving on to higher education. Some universities have now started offering admissions to students with stand-alone BTECs or when held in combination with other qualifications such as A-levels and IB.
In order to address the particular needs and trajectories of this under- researched group we adopted an explore-design-implement-evaluate methodology. The exploratory phase was designed to develop the evidence base and identify whether BTEC students face any challenges during the FE-HE transition. During this phase three main strands of work were undertaken. A scoping review of literature, statistical analysis of data from FE colleges and Universities, and interviews with FE tutors and students.
This blog gives an overall view of the statistical analysis of admissions and progression data from Universities. We compared the progression rates of students with various qualifications to the second year of study in the subject areas of Business, Computer Science and Sports. Our findings show amongst students with various prior qualifications the highest proportion of those who failed their end of first year examination had a BTEC only qualification.
Overall BTEC students were more likely to apply and be offered a place in Sports and Exercise science and least likely to take up Computer science. Their patterns of progression matched the trends in entry to University. Thus most BTEC students in Sports passed their end of first year examination while relatively higher proportion of BTEC students failed in Computer Science.
Although the rate of progression for BTEC students from the first to the second year of study is lower than traditional entry students, the vast majority of BTEC students do succeed and are particularly more successful in Sports and Exercise science. The other important finding from the analysis was that most BTEC students qualified for one or more set of criteria used to flag deprivation indices. Thus it is very likely in addition to prior qualifications there are other factors involved which impact progression of BTEC students.
Thus while expectations or experiences of HE entrants may vary depending on their background, universities may not be sufficiently adaptive to a diverse group. One of the ways forward is to develop more inclusive pedagogies according to course structure and programme requirements to help students achieve better educational outcomes.
Stay tuned as the next blog offers an insight into students and tutors perceptions of this transition!