Degrees of success

Increased participation in post-compulsory education is regarded by politicians as an important contribution to equal educational opportunities.

However, international studies have shown that not all upper secondary education, particularly vocational education and training (VET), leads to improved educational opportunities.

Therefore, this project investigated the transition processes between vocational and higher education (HE). The underlying assumption was that people with vocational qualifications can widen participation in HE. The project tested this assumption by analysing a number of existing datasets, most importantly HE access data provided by UCAS for the last ten years and HE participation data from HESA. The resulting map of the landscape of transition was then further investigated using a focused research design looking at the learning experiences of young people who had made the transition from VET to HE. Factors affecting their transition processes were identified and their perceptions of the learning environments at universities and colleges investigated. The project regarded learning and teaching processes as intertwined, and, therefore, the perceptions of HE lecturers and admissions staff regarding students with a background in vocational education were analysed.

These two parts of the project were supplemented by User Forums bringing together practitioners in HE and VET. These Forums had a twofold role: firstly, they were used to discuss and disseminate the findings of the project to make them relevant to the widening participation agenda. Secondly, the User Forums refined the project’s research questions and developed new tasks for the quantitative and the qualitative part of the project. The overall aim of the User Forums was to develop ways in which the transition of people between the contexts of VET and HE was facilitated and in which the learning experience of these people in HE could be improved.

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Funded by HEFCE through the ESRC Teaching and Learning Research Project (TLRP), this project was led by Geoff Hayward and Hubert Ertl.