A few days before Christmas, the nice people over at the Guardian HE network asked me to write a post for their blog with my Christmas wishes. They asked some other big wigs to do so too; I particularly liked Patrick McGee’s contribution (scroll to the bottom)

For my wish list, decided to get on my hobby horse about widening participation. I get frustrated by the way the debate about WP has become almost entirely focussed on bursaries. I wrote about this on the WonkHE blog earlier this year:

“As someone who was brought up in working class surroundings and was the first in my family to move permanently out of Wales, let alone go to University, I get frustrated when (albeit well meaning) journalists, HE representatives etc. speak as though student fees are the only factor that will inform the decisions of people like me about whether to go to university . . .

“. . . I would prefer if we stopped this national obsession with counting the number of poor kids getting into Oxbridge as the measure of widening participation. If HE really is going to improve its record then money needs to poured into initiatives that will take HE out into deprived communities. Not relying on patronising “you too could be like us” outreach schemes, but actually delivering HE courses in these communities. Making it relevant and part of normal life.

“It will take two or three generations to break down these barriers. Telling someone from a disadvantaged background, who has already confounded expectations, worked extremely hard and broken through seemingly impossible barriers, that they can now have a discount on their debt is a nice reward, but it won’t help the classmates that they have left behind.”

So for the Guardian HE blog, I spent ages trying to think of some link to a Christmas and plumped for the 12 days of Christmas and this is what I came up with:

Sponsor 12 academy schools with direct routes into universities

Take 11Access to HE students to meet David Willetts to talk about the AAB policy

Fund 10% more university places

Make £9K fees tax deductible for courses delivered in the workplace

8 FE colleges will be granted degree awarding powers because they have better links with deprived communities

Set up 7 credit transfer partnerships to make it easier for students to dip in and out of study in a way that suits their lifestyle

Open university libraries and collections for 6 weeks of summer holidays

5 golden rings for the sake of tradition

4 days tax-free for any business that will grant the equivalent time to graduates to visit schools promoting HE

Allocate 3 days for every academic in the UK to visit local schools to talk about HE

Double the number of 2 year degree programmes

Make it mandatory for every school pupil to take at least one look at the BestCourse4me website

So the 12 days bit ended up being a bit tenuous! But these are the sorts of things that I feel would have much stronger and longer term impact on WP than giving prizes (in the form of bursaries) to those students who have already made it to University. I’ll hopefully expand on some of these ideas over the ext few days (gives me something to write about).


2 responses »

  1. […] I criticised bursaries as being nothing better than prizes for disadvantaged students who have worked hard and made the difficult choices to get to university, but offering no incentive to able potential students who are not even considering higher education. Yesterday, I said that universities sponsoring academy schools might help widen the options and raise the aspirations of school pupil. Today I’m thinking more of those who will have left full time education for whom a traditional education is just impossible. […]

  2. […] I share Mark’s disappointment at how this is going to be used. I have argued before (here and here) that bursaries and fee waivers for students who have made it to Oxbridge are of questionable […]

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