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Sunday, 1 February 2009

Widening access to Higher Education

How do we get more students from lower income families to go to University? Aimhigher and similar projects have not had the impact that was hoped. In fact, widening participation may be purely about financial aspects of studying.

This was brought home to me the other day when someone pointed out the student loans are not interest free and it's true, of course - student loans are designed with low not no interest.

Last year it was clear that that with low-interest student loans a student was better off getting a loan even if the family had savings, because the saving rates were higher than the interest on the student loans. But now, savings rates are ridiculously low and student loan rates are still pegged to inflation (not savings rates) - and I think it's no longer worth having one. And if it's time for second thoughts for a family that wholeheartedly supports education and has a reasonable income to support its student members, how much more difficult is it for someone from a low-income family to take on such a loan - to study for a degree at a time when graduate employment prospects are the worst for 20 years? You can see why they'd think it's much better to get a "job in the hand" now.

The correlation between students attending University and their parents having attended University in the UK is the highest in WEstern Europe.

Even casting aside the financial issues, are the institutions themselves and their culture actually creating barriers. How much does the HE sector need to change its offerings to attract wider participation? Skills and knowledge are much needed to support the ailing economy - but should Universities become something quite different to suit the situation? Would it be throwing the baby out with the bathwater to lose the many benefits offered by a traditional University education?

Yes, it is vital that young and old get equal access to education and development, but perhaps Unviersities are just aprt of the answer, and not the most appropriate route to education and training for everyone. The FE and lifeloong learning sector and skills training of various kinds may be the areas to develop to encourage a variety of courses and educational opportunities that really meet learners' needs.

Is it necessary to change University courses to 2 years full time to suit workers? For some this may be appropriate - but there are doubts that courses can be delivered effectively in such a timescale. Work-based education and training may be very much more useful to many learners.

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posted by Helen Whitehead 2:24 PM

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Helen Whitehead's blog of e-learning, digital literacy, online writing, and digital creativity.

Which methods and techniques using new technologies are of real use?

Writing in the digital age is so much more than delivering information, or traditional stories and poems electronically. Digital forms of literature can include text, hyperlinks, multi-linear plots, superlinear narrative, graphics, interactivity, animation... and so much more.

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