Addressing barriers to student success

Barriers for BTEC students to fit in at high-tariff universities

Professor Debra Myhill, Project Director

Going to university is one of the most significant transitions a young person makes: for many, it involves moving away from home, managing money independently, taking responsibility for cooking and cleaning, to say nothing of the academic transition into a university education. Curiously, we are often much more conscious of the two other significant educational transitions – starting school, and going to secondary school, and yet in terms of the scale of change involved, the transition to university is far more complex.

We also know that a young person’s chance of going to university is strongly influenced by their home background, and the efforts made by universities to widen the participation of young people from diverse backgrounds attempt to redress these inherent inequalities. But more recently, new analyses are showing that disadvantage is not restricted to university access, but continues through university and into employment. Young people from socially-disadvantaged or minority groups are more likely to drop out of university, less likely to achieve a first or 2.1 degree result than their more advantaged peers, and less likely to secure employment with a high salary.

The HEFCE Catalyst project, Addressing Barriers to Success, is a national programme of activity designed to understand and improve this situation. Within this, our own project, Transforming Transitions, is focusing particular on the transition from school or college to university, through looking at the perspectives and experiences of BTEC students. The BTEC is a growing qualification and more students than ever are accessing university via the BTEC route, but fewer BTEC students are accepted into research-intensive universities, and their route through university is not smooth. The cohort of students who choose a BTEC are more likely to be socially-disadvantaged or ethnic minority students, and few (if any) independent schools offer a BTEC.

As such, this group of students are an important group to think about in terms of barriers to success: how does their non-traditional qualification prepare them for university? How do they experience learning at university compared with their BTEC experiences? How do they fit in socially in a university environment? And are they really distinctively different from A level students just because they have taken a BTEC route? We have finished the first phase of our project which was a combination of statistical analysis and student and lecturer interviews aimed at helping us understand the BTEC students’ experience of transition. In this blog we will share our reflections on the emerging issues.

Watch this space!