Perspectives on Access to Higher Education

Perspectives on Access to HE

By Anthony Hudson.

For colleagues with an interest in widening access and participation to higher education, the recently published: Perspectives on Access to Higher Education: Practice and Research, will be of value.

Access education has been through many changes since its beginnings in the late 1960s. Recent shifts in the academic landscape including standardization, grading, and new tensions in higher education raise difficult questions for educators regarding the future of access education.

This book critically examines various aspects of Access education from a historical perspective. It proposes that there are particular ‘Access’ values that are shared by practitioners that can be at odds with the needs of higher education. Wider questions concerning funding and accountability underpinned by neoliberalism have also had an impact on Access education. The authors, practitioners and researchers of Access education, gather their insights in this timely book, grounded in authentic experience. They explore the ways in which policies and procedures have been developed in light of these tensions. By drawing particular attention to the voices of Access practitioners and highlighting the current constraints around curriculum design this book will prove invaluable for leaders, administrators, researchers and practitioners in further and higher education.

About the authors

Samantha Broadhead is Head of Research at Leeds Arts University, UK. She has previously published work on widening participation in art and design education and is the co-author of Practical Wisdom and Democratic Education: Phronesis, Art and Non-traditional Students (Palgrave).

Rosemarie Davies works with university partners in the development of degree and higher apprenticeships at The Skills Company, UK. For over 30 years she has worked extensively with a variety of universities at the interface between further education and higher education.

Anthony Hudson is a Research Manager at Continuum, the Centre for Widening Participation Policy Studies at the University of East London (UEL), UK and is currently undertaking doctoral research on the identity of Access to HE tutors.

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Do undergraduate research internships really work?

Research Interns - Poster Event

By Anthony Hudson.

Earlier this evening my colleague, Aga Spytkowska, and I attended UEL’s Undergraduate Research Interns’ poster competition as part of our evaluation of the Undergraduate Research Internship Scheme.

Over 35 interns attended the event and presented a poster based on their internship. Whilst the posters showcased the work of individual interns and their supervisors, it also demonstrated the variety and quality of work being undertaken across academic schools, research institutes and services at UEL. Poster presentations are an excellent way of communicating research findings from projects, as well as outcomes from knowledge exchange projects. However, producing a poster is no easy endeavour. It requires clarity and creativity to produce succinct and accessible text, with carefully chosen graphics, an appropriate layout and appealing design.  Observing the poster presentations – the interaction between interns and attendees – provided valuable context for our evaluation.  To evaluate the current iteration of the internship scheme we are drawing on data from an online survey administered to all interns and supervisors, and interviews from a sample of participants.

A couple of colleagues attending the event asked me whether I thought research internships made a difference. Until we’ve completed our evaluation I was reluctant to answer. Instead, I suggested that they look around the room – crowded and buzzing, with poster presenters and attendees in animated conversation – by way of an answer.

Yes, that’s fine they said. ‘But does it really work?’ I shared my experience of the scheme as a supervisor. Our research centre, Continuum, was pleased to host undergraduate research interns in the first two years that the scheme was run. Our first intern obtained a good degree in psychology, progressed to postgraduate study and obtained a Distinction in her Master’s degree. She worked at UEL as a Learning Achievement Advisor and now runs a successful consultancy. Our second intern was awarded a first class undergraduate degree, secured a job in our research centre and progressed to postgraduate study, achieving a distinction in her Master’s degree.  Aga, was the second intern I had the privilege of supervising is now working with me to evaluate the internship scheme. So yes, from our perspective the internship scheme works!

As the evaluation progresses we’ll be posting thoughts and findings on our blog and welcome thoughts and comments.

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Can undergraduate research experiences help widen participation to postgraduate study?


By Anthony Hudson

Continuum is currently undertaking a small-scale study: Exploring and evaluating undergraduate research-based experiences. The research aims firstly, to explore academics’ perceptions of the value of research-based experiences for undergraduates. Secondly, to identify the barriers and enablers to establishing and supporting such experiences. Thirdly, to evaluate a particular research-based experience – the University of East London’s undergraduate research internship scheme – from the perspective of both undergraduate interns and academic supervisors.

Exploring how academics define undergraduate research may provide an understanding of the forms of engagement – the types of undergraduate research experience – that they view as being able to provide students with the necessary research skills (Brew and Mantai, 2017). The forms that undergraduate research experiences take range from apprentice-type internships, to course based experiences in the formal curriculum. Whilst the skills that undergraduates can gain from such experiences will vary, there is evidence that they facilitate progression to postgraduate study (Moore, Avant, and Austin 2008).  The Panel on Fair Access to the Professions (2009) reported that postgraduate qualifications were increasingly becoming the gateway for careers in a growing number of professions. Research skills as Hudson (2013:151) noted: ‘…are not the preserve of those who wish to follow an academic career; they are central to the knowledge economy and professions in which graduates seek employment.’ In a subsequent blog, we will be exploring how such schemes and programmes benefit institutions and individuals – supervisors and undergraduates.

To date, there has been limited research on the lived experience of undergraduates undertaking research internships and course based research experiences. Developing an understanding of their preconceptions and experience may enable institutions to design internships and programmes that meet the needs of their students. Similarly being aware of students’ preconceptions may enable the institution in general and supervisors in particular, to manage their expectations. Whilst internship programmes and undergraduate research experiences are well established in many Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in the United States – and to a lesser extent in Community Colleges – students from underrepresented groups are often excluded. Research by Bangera and Brownnell (2014) focussing on STEM undergraduates in the United States notes that underrepresented students are excluded for a number of reasons ranging from: awareness of such opportunities to financial and personal barriers. This is a cause for concern especially when independent research experiences are seen as a pre-requisite for STEM undergraduates who wish to progress to Graduate School.

Returning to the UK, it seems salient to look at the impact of policy responses to widen participation to postgraduate study and in particular the introduction of postgraduate student loans. Non-means tested loans of up to £10,000 (to cover tuition and living costs) for postgraduate students were introduced in the academic year 2016/17 and loans of up to £25,000 for doctoral students from the current academic year, 2018/19. Drawing on data from the HESA Student record and the Intentions After Graduation Survey, the Office for Students notes: ‘that the proportion of students who state their intention to continue their studies and end up going into postgraduate education has increased’ (OfS, 2018). Since the loans were introduced in 2016/17 there has been an increase of 22,000 students to eligible master’s courses, an increase of 31 per cent from 2015/16. Whilst this has not had impact in terms of gender; the proportion of black students increased from 8 per cent in 2015/16 to 11 per cent in 2016/17; and the proportion of students from the lowest participation area (POLAR 4 quintile 1) increased from 9 per cent to 10 per cent of the young postgraduate entrant population. Will these modest increases continue? Or will we see, as Wakeling & Laurison (2017) argue, drawing on Raferty & Hout’s (1993) thesis of Maximally Maintained Inequality  (MMI) that as initial access to HE increases, inequality of access moves to the next level, in this case – postgraduate study. Based on data from the Labour Force Survey, Wakeling & Laurison (2017:552) conclude: ‘that social class inequalities not only persist at postgraduate level, but have widened over time.’  It would seem as Wakeling et al (2017) note that institutions with a demonstrable commitment to widening participation will be key in widening postgraduate participation

Turning back to the question: Can undergraduate research experiences help widen participation to postgraduate study? Certainly, if structural barriers, such as finance, are reduced or removed, then research experiences are more likely to have an impact. In addition to skills development they may help foster or clarify students’ interests and encourage them to consider postgraduate study. From our small-scale study we hope to explore these structural issues; the barriers and enablers to implementation and delivery of research experiences; as well as the barriers and enablers to participation in such schemes, particularly for learners from underrepresented groups. You’ll have to keep following our blog posts during the course of the study to find out whether structures and processes reproduce inequality or help to widen participation.


Bangera, G. & Brownell, S. E.  (2014). “Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experiences Can Make Scientific Research More Inclusive.” CBE-Life Sciences Education. 13(4): 602–606.

Brew, A. & Mantai, L. (2017). “Academics’ perceptions of the challenges and barriers to implementing research-based experiences for undergraduates.” Teaching in Higher Education. 22(5): 551-568.

Hudson, A. (2013). “The undiscovered country: widening participation to postgraduate study”, in Hill, M., Hudson, A., Jones, P., Renton, R., Saunders, D.  & Storan, J. (eds.) Widening Access to Higher Education in Divided Communities. FACE: London.

Moore, L. S., Avant, F. & Austin, S.F. ( 2008). “Strengthening Undergraduate Social Work Research: Models and Strategies.” Social Work Research. 32(4): 231–35.

Office for Students (OfS). (2018). The effect of postgraduate loans. Available at:  Date accessed: 18 May 2018.

Panel on Fair Access to the Professions (2009) Unleashing Aspiration: The Final Report of the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions. Cabinet Office: London.

Raftery, A.E. & Hout, M. 1993 “Maximally Maintained Inequality: Expansion, Reform and Opportunity in Irish Higher Education, 1921–1975.” Sociology of Education. 66 (1): 41–62.

Wakeling, P., Hampden-Thompson, G. &  Hancock, S. (2017). “Is undergraduate debt an impediment to postgraduate enrolment in England?” British Educational Research Journal. doi:10.1002/berj.3304. Accessed: 18 October 2017.

Wakeling, P. & Laurison, D. (2017). “Are postgraduate qualifications the ‘new frontier of social mobility’?” British Journal of Sociology. 68(3):532-555.

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London Schools’ Data Dashboard

school map

I am pleased to announce the launch of the updated London Schools’ Data Dashboard, developed by Continuum and funded by UCL.

Please find the link here: it will open in a new window.

The last dashboard was used by many institutions to help outreach teams target particular schools and cohorts for their outreach work. The feedback that we have received from colleagues has been very good, and we  had over 1,300 individual visitors to the old dashboard. The new dashboard is an excellent resource that brings together complicated contextual data for each school and simplifies it so that those who are not data scientists themselves can see an overview of each school, and print out a one page .pdf with all the information they need.

For the updated dashboard we have based the maps on the new POLAR4 areas and used the following contextual data assigned to each school/college under investigation:

  • Type of school
  • School address and other contact details including phone number and webpage
  • Gender of learners
  • Numbers of learners broken down by gender
  • Free School Meal data
  • POLAR3 profile based on HEFCE participation data
  • KS4 achievement data, including vocational equivalents (where applicable)
  • KS5 achievement data, including vocational equivalents (where applicable)
  • Ethnicity data
  • English as a second language data
  • IMD data

school eg

The dashboard has been built with all state funded secondary schools, academies and colleges (including sixth form colleges) in London.

Please feel free to use this resource and share widely with colleagues.


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Practical Wisdom and Democratic Education

Practical Wisdom and Democratic Education

By Anthony Hudson.

For colleagues with an interest in democratic education and the experiences of mature learners, the recently published: Practical Wisdom and Democratic Education: Phronesis, Art and Non-Traditional Students, will be of value.

Drawing on the Aristotelian concept of phronesis, or practical wisdom, the book builds on the work of Basil Bernstein to analyse the stories of four mature students studying for degrees in art and design. The authors, Dr Sam Broadhead and Prof. Maggie Gregson, argue that democratic education should allow participants to feel enhanced, included and able to engage in order to create a constructive and reciprocal dialogue.

Since many vocational and academic disciplines require deliberation and the ability to draw on knowledge, character and experience, it is important that learners do not feel that their experience disadvantages them. However, as Bernstein (1970) noted ‘education cannot compensate for society.’ Fulfilling learners’ pedagogic rights alone is not sufficient, institutions and policy makers have a moral duty  to listen to students marginalised by current practices.


Bernstein, B. (1970). ‘Education cannot compensate for society.’ New Society, 15 (387): 344-47.


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University prospectuses misrepresent BME students.

pexels-photo-267586By Dom Jackson-Cole


Prospectuses have been identified as important marketing tools for universities trying to attract potential postgraduate students (Mowjee, 2013). However, researchers in the UK and the US found that prospectuses were misleading their readers in terms of their use of data (Bradley, 2013) or images to represent diversity (Jaschik, 2008; Osei-Kofi, Torres, & Lui, 2013; Vasagar, 2010). I investigated this further by conducting a small scale textual and visual analysis of prospectuses of five research intensive universities for 2016/17 academic year. Prospectuses were read and eye-scanned and then coded with attention given to relations of power and privilege and how these were reproduced by discourses of historical, sociological and political contexts, using Critical Race Theory as the main theoretical framework (Gillborn, 2012; Rollock & Gillborn, 2011). From this the following themes were identified:

Lack of explicit references to ‘race’ and diversity

In none of the five prospectuses the words “race”, “ethnicity or “ethnic minority” were used outside of the course descriptions, such as sociology or history. The words ‘diversity” and “equality” also did not feature in the context of ‘race’ and ethnicity but in course/ department descriptions, for example “diversity of topics”. Only one university described the city where it was located as “vibrant and diverse”. This signal the attempted colour-blind/ post-racial character of the publications, in which issues of ‘race’ simply don’t feature explicitly and are wrongly (intentionally or unintentionally) assumed to be non-existent.

Global transfer of whiteness through research

A lot of prominence in the publications was given to research excellence of universities. However, the research case studies presented either disregarded ‘race’ related investigations, deeming them as not worthy of mentioning, or promoted the discourse of superior knowledge being produced by White people and transferred onto global South. In one prospectus highlighting the global reach of the institution’s research such words as “support development of their school system”, “Improve nutrition”, “improve the quality of life”, “help remote forest communities” were used when talking about cooperation with non-Western countries. At the same time, research collaborations with Western Countries such as the USA, Australia and European states talked about “sharing knowledge” or “partnership” and referred to highly advanced STEM research. Thus, the Western countries were portrayed as equal partners in technologically advanced research, while the countries from the global South were being supposedly helped by the knowledge transfers from White to non-White nations.

Extracurricular activities – diversity at the periphery

All the prospectuses mentioned extracurricular activities as an attractive offer supplementing the core activities. Imagery of ethnic diversity was popular in these sections among descriptions of cultural festivals, nightlife, and sports. This could suggest that diversity is treated as a fun, extra-curricular feature rather than being at the core of the institutions of teaching and learning.

Visual (mis)representation

The prospectuses over-represented BME students’ presence compared to their actual student demographics. While, this may be seen positively as a way to build an inclusive and encouraging image of the institution in order to draw in potential BME students, it is not genuine and may backfire when students choose the institution and the reality does not meet their expectations – potentially impacting their sense of belonging and satisfaction. However, images of BME staff were under-represented. It can suggest that BME staff are not seen as worthy of mentioning.

BME as relationally inferior

In terms of the distribution of the photographs of BME students these were mostly featured in the sections dedicated to international students, sports and support. This can be seen as very stereotypical, and can send a message that people of colour at the universities are only or mostly international students. Along with a higher concertation of BME images in the sections to do with student support (e.g. childcare, studying skills, mental health support) this plays into the overall implicit discourses of BME students seen as somehow lesser than White students and needing help.

On three out of four occasions images with BME and White people in one-on-one situations suggested it was the White person explaining something to the BME individual, and only one image had a person of colour seemingly explaining something to a White person. This may convey a message that BME people at universities are the receivers of knowledge, rather than the ones producing it. In other situations, BME people were simply absent. Thus, BME people in the prospectuses were omitted or mostly seen as lesser.


The above analysis demonstrates how whiteness was the dominant ideology informing representations of BME staff and students in all of the five university prospectuses investigated. By over-representing BME students in photographs, while at the same time paying no attention to ethnic diversity in the written texts, the prospectuses were shown to be disingenuous and misleading in their portrayal of campus realities, at most engaging in a superficial way with issues of ‘race’. The concentration of images of BME people in sections dedicated to international students, student support and extra-curricular activities, as well as relational positioning of BME people as knowledge consumers rather than producers contributed to the racist traditions of stereotypical and infantilising discourses of BME people.


Gillborn, D. (2012). Education and institutional racism. London: Institute of Education Press.

Jaschik, S. (2008, July 2). Viewbook Divesity vs. Real Diversity. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from

Mowjee, B. (2013). Are postgraduate students ‘rational choosers’? An investigation of motivation for graduate study amongst international students in England. Research in Comparative and International Education, 8(2), 193–213.

Osei-Kofi, N., Torres, L. E., & Lui, J. (2013). Practices of whiteness: racialization in college admissions viewbooks. Race Ethnicity and Education, 16(3), 386–405.

Rollock, N., & Gillborn, D. (2011). Critical Race Theory (CRT). British Educational Research Association. Retrieved from

Vasagar, J. (2010, December 6). Twenty-one Oxbridge colleges took no black students last year. The Guardian. Retrieved from

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Peer mentoring in College HE

Mentoring - Word Cloud

By Dr Paul Demetriou-Crane and Lynsey Lapwood.

In this blog post Dr Paul Demetriou-Crane and Lynsey Lapwood, Havering College of Further and Higher Education (Havering College) report on establishing a peer mentoring scheme for College HE (HE in FE) students.

With two local campuses, several satellite sites and outreach centres in the London Borough of Havering the college is the largest provider of College HE in London. In the current academic year (2017/18) over 400 learners are undertaking degree level study. Learners are drawn from a wide catchment area covering East London, Kent and Essex. Of these learners 39% are from disadvantaged areas and 23% progress internally from level 3 courses at the college. The college has a strong commitment to widening participation and student support, of which peer mentoring is one example. Peer mentoring not only benefits mentees, by providing support at a critical points in their learning journey; it also provides mentors with the opportunity to gain and develop a range of interpersonal skills .

The one-year peer mentoring pilot started in October 2017 and will end in June 2018. The rationale for the pilot was threefold. Firstly an increasing number of learner on levels 4, 5 and 6 of the foundation degree (FD) in Supporting Teaching and Learning in Schools, were struggling with academic work. Secondly, with an increase in student numbers teachers were unable to provide individual support. Thirdly with a reduction in hours allocated for tutorial, support outside of the classroom was also reduced. The aims of the pilot study are to develop a peer scheme to support struggling learners and secondly, to evaluate the success of the scheme from the perspective of both mentees and mentors.

In the first 4 weeks of term, tutors on the FD in Supporting Teaching and Learning in Schools, identified several learners across Levels 4 level, 5 and 6 who might benefit from being mentored. Students included those whose diagnostic assessments in English and maths revealed skills gaps; consistently attained low grades (<49%) and those perceived to lack academic confidence. A total of ten students volunteered to participate in the pilot study: five level 4 students as mentees and five level 5/6 students as peer mentors.

Mentors received a short training two hour training session on coaching and mentoring in to supplement written guidelines on participation and confidentiality. In recognition of this they received a certificate of attendance. During the pilot Mentors will be expected to provide regular blogs detailing their experiences to be posted on the college’s Moodle site. The mentors will be supported by six -monthly group meetings of one hour, facilitated by the researchers. This will be an opportunity for them to feedback on challenges and concerns as well as highlight successes.  Both mentors and mentees will also have the opportunity to meet privately with the researchers if necessary.

In addition to the mentors’ blog posts both mentors and mentees will be asked to provide feedback by completing a questionnaire at two points in time; December 2017 and June 2018. These self-completion questionnaires will be used to explore their experiences of the mentoring process to evaluate its effectiveness in terms of student support.

Dr Paul Demetriou-Crane and Lynsey Lapwood recently delivered a presentation:         ‘MKO – beyond Vygotsky -adult peer mentoring in HE at an FE college’ at a seminar jointly organised by Continuum and the Learning & Skills Research Network (LSRN) London & South East, which was hosted at UEL. A copy of their presentation can be downloaded by clicking on the link: Peer Mentoring

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The Higher Education Journey of Young London Residents

By Professor John Storan

This report is the fifth in a series of reports providing analysis of the higher education journey of young London residents as they progress from 16-18 institutions on to their higher education study and beyond. The report also explores achievement at university and graduate employment. Taken together, the five years of reports span a significantly changing period in higher education – starting in the year before the increase in tuition fees to a maximum of £9,000 per year, and the four years after.

Our primary aim in producing these reports is to assist London local authorities to map the whole of the higher education journey of their young people, and the research aims to not only provide an illustration of that journey, but to also evidence the value of higher education to young people in London in terms of their early graduate employment six months after completing their higher education studies.

Information on the numbers of young people progressing to higher education in London has always been of interest to London local authorities, but it has taken on added importance as more and more jobs in London now and in the future will be at graduate levels 4 & 5, with an emphasis on specialist degrees.

Higher education itself is also changing and responding to the new conditions, with more colleges of Further Education and Further & Higher Education directly funded by Higher Education Funding Council to deliver degrees within the last three years; the removal of limits on the number of undergraduates universities can recruit; a decrease in the number of international students choosing to study in the UK, including EU students; the re-launch of apprenticeships and the growing development of Level 4 higher and degree apprenticeships.

These changes in the provision of higher education represent a reordering of higher education opportunities and a range of different pathways for young people in London who want to progress to Level 4 qualifications and above.

In each of our reports, we have included a different focus each year, and this year we have focused on the impact of higher education on social mobility. Government policy has focused on increasing the percentage of people entering higher education and achieving degrees since the 1990s. This has been primarily a policy drive to provide the higher-skilled workforce that the economy needs, but Widening Participation initiatives have also focused on the social mobility that higher education can offer to young people who are able to enter graduate professions.

For the last 20 years, the Higher Education Funding Council for England has provided financial incentives to universities that recruit students from low income postcodes, and who are the first in their families to enter higher education. Higher Education Funding Council for England has also provided universities with substantial funding for outreach work to encourage more and different young people to participate in higher education and access a wider range of Higher Education Institutions. The establishment of the Office for Fair Access further provided a sector-wide resource in the form of Access Agreements, which are soon to be replaced by Access and Participation Plans regulated by the Office for Students. In October 2015, Universities UK was invited by the Minister of State for Universities and Science, Jo Johnson MP, to provide advice on how universities in England could build on their contribution to social mobility. Universities UK was asked to form an advisory group to focus efforts on improving educational and career outcomes for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, those with a disability, as well as those from black, minority and ethnic backgrounds1.

The Universities UK, Social Mobility Advisory Group published their report in October 20162. The report states that there is an overwhelming correlation between a student’s experience at school, and their outcomes at university. They also cited the importance of analysing the whole of the student journey through school 16-19 education, higher education and into employment.

An important finding from the Social Mobility Advisory Group report is that “socio-economic disadvantage continues to be the most significant driver of inequality in terms of access to and outcomes from higher education”.

The report noted that “eighteen year-olds from the most advantaged groups remain 2.4 times more likely to enter university than their disadvantaged peers, and 6.3 times more likely to attend one of the most selective institutions in the UK. Having graduated from university, students from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to go into professional jobs, and if they do they are likely to be paid less”. The findings from the Universities UK report further demonstrate the relevance of the analyses in our reports on the journey of young people in from 16-19 education, through higher education and into employment at London regional and individual borough level. The Universities UK report cites and draws on our 2015 research in its evidence, and given this theme, our report this year includes a section on social mobility, including latest data from the Index of Multiple Deprivation on progression to higher education by IMD decile; the socio-economic status of young higher education entrants, and previous parental participation in higher education.

The social mobility data further underlines the importance of information about the progression of our young people to higher education, and of understanding the social and economic value of higher education in increased employment, graduate earnings, and in building a highly educated, socially mobile and skilled young population to support London’s economic growth and London’s future.

The report can be accessed at:




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Connecting Learning Gain and Widening Participation

By Dr Fuad Ali

As the Omnibus study has unfolded, our team has been keen to design measures that help us understand the relationships between inequality and learning gain, and how these might express themselves, directly and indirectly, through the metrics that we use and through institutional data. With more students than ever entering HE from non-traditional (HE)ritage, more of them working to maintain themselves at the time of study and the forthcoming challenges of enabling lifelong learning in a changing job market, HE institutions and the programmes that they deliver will be increasingly required to adapt to their students’ life worlds’ and terms in order to bring the best out of them. One point of entry into this dynamic space is through our data on how students report spending their time.

Student Viscosity

Student Viscosity Model Fig. 1

Figure 1

The previous blog post on learning gain introduced the idea of a Student Viscosity Model (SVM), to account for multiple challenges many students face, outside their HEI participation, that shapes their engagement with it. The ‘viscosity’ referred to here is structural in nature but negotiable to a degree. The metaphor I like to use here is of the fish swimming upstream (Figure 1), encountering specific and dynamic pressures according to their individual situations journeys and efforts. SVM differs from the contextual value add trailed briefly, if clumsily, then dropped from the schools sector, in its individual student-centricity.


A basic model for SVM can be developed by summing the time spent working for pay, providing care for dependents and commuting to campus, as self-reported on the UKES subscales of the Wave 2 survey administered in Spring 2017. It is important to note here however that these variables are not necessarily independent, as commuting times may include the school run and commutes to work. It is as first order estimates, of “life stretch”, that they are valuable.

The variability of SVM distributions between participating institutions, Gender, broad Ethnicity Groups and Age Range is plotted on Figures 2, 3, 4 and 5 below. To summarise, participating UELs’ students’ negotiate higher viscosities than Roehampton and Brunel’s. Female students face more demands on their time than their male peers. Black student groups face higher viscosity than Asian students, than White students, a well-known structural inequality. Somewhat intuitively, viscosity distributions for the four age ranges are progressively less skewed.

Student Vsicosity Model Fig. 2

Figure 2

Student Viscosity Model Fig. 3

Figure 3

Student Viscosity Model Fig. 4

Figure 4

Student Viscosity Model Fig. 5

Figure 5

Connecting with UEL attainment data, plotting SVM by marks attained on Figure 6 below suggests a modest negative correlation, and multiple linear regression analysis alongside socio-demographic dimensions of ethnicity group, gender and age group confirms viscosity as a variable of marginal significance to scored attainment. Given the predictive predilection of learning analytics in HE at the present moment, SVM may not have the perceived performance influencing heft of socio-demographic data, but from a Teaching and Learning support point of view there is an opportunity here to mould provision to everyday conditions not just when they become extenuating.

Student Viscosity Model Fig.6

Figure 6

Correlations between marks and individual UKES item scores were also educative, multiple linear regression analysis shows that time spent on individual study had a significant and positive correlation with module marks, but somewhat counter-intuitively, time spent on volunteering outside the HEI context and commuting had negative impacts.

Struggling to register the benefits of volunteering
Extra-curricular university activity and volunteering were also observed to have markedly negative impacts on Academic Behaviour Confidence Gain amongst our first year heavy cohort. Evidence of positive impacts of voluntary work on the UKES personal development subscale is challenging at this stage, as time spent on individual study is ubiquitous in its impact, be that on Being innovative and creative, acquiring employability skills or developing or clarifying personal values or ethics. Revisiting the time spent and personal development subscales in the Wave 4 data, which will be spread along more levels of study will help us understand this further, and whether benefits of voluntary commitments accrue with time or correlate with motivational values.

The question of voluntarism is interesting, not just because self-identified volunteering levels are relatively low, but for the inequality of the conditions for volunteering. In our data for last year across three institutions the, level of a student’s voluntary activity is significantly and negatively correlated to student viscosity and student study toil. Also in last year’s data, voluntary activities were not significantly correlated with the personal development indices deployed or academic behaviour confidence scores. Therefore given the data, should our most responsible advice, at least to first year students, be to just focus on their studies?

Commutancy and inequality reproduction
Recent research by Kingston University as explored the impacts of commuting on student performance and the learning support opportunities of commuting. Further analysis of commuting times in the Omnibus data shows how BAME groups and older age groups travelled on average longer weekly commutes than younger age groups and their white student peers. This ‘commutancy’ gap, when taken together with our institutional range of partners, says something quite important about the appeal of the specific university for specific genres of student, but is itself outscaled by that more sociogenetic (Fanon) Black-White attainment gap, whose strength was on the order of tens of hours of weekly commuting. The question that I have following this, is whether commutancy is additive and reproductive of existing inequality and what creative adjustments could be made at the institutional and sector level to prevent such institutional amplification of inequality.

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Beyond the REF: Making research count, making research accessible.

By Anthony Hudson and Carly Lightfoot.


This blog considers the value of institutional repositories not in only making research count, but also making it accessible to wider audiences. In the first part of the blog, drawing on an article by Carly Lighfoot, UEL’s Research Data Management Officer we provide a brief overview of the Research Excellence Framework (REF2021) and the requirement for Open Access. The second part of the blog considers the wider benefits of institutional repositories, particularly for staff who may not have the opportunity to disseminate their work through conference presentations and academic publications

Research Excellence Framework
The Research Excellence Framework is the system by which the four higher education funding bodies aim to assess the quality of research in UK higher education institutions. Panels of reviewers appraise the quality of research outputs, their impact beyond academia, and the environment that supports research.  There will be four main panels which will provide ‘leadership and guidance’ to the 34 sub-panels (subject-based units of assessment) tasked to undertake expert review. Essentially it is a mechanism to assist the funding bodies in allocating quality-related research (QR) funding. This is one part of the ‘dual support’ system which was designed to enable research councils and higher education institutions to choose which areas of research to support at arm’s length from political control. Whilst funding from research councils provides grants for specific projects or programmes of research; HE funding bodies, such as the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) provide block grants to support institutions’ research priorities and fund their research infrastructure.

Staff and outputs
For many academic colleagues, submitting to the REF and having outputs which are considered REF-able is important, because of the impact it has on career progression within the academy.  The recent publication of REF2021 Decisions on staff and outputs provides guidelines for institutions to identify who is in scope for submission, the number of outputs required and the policy on open access. It seems expedient to remind colleagues of how to fulfil the Open Access requirements in order for their research publications to be eligible for submission to REF2021. The policy will require the final peer-reviewed manuscripts of outputs in scope – journal articles and conference proceedings published with an ISSN – must be deposited in an institutional or subject repository within 3 months of being accepted for publication. From 1 April 2018 a deposit exception will be introduced allowing outputs that are unable to adhere to the deposit timescale to be deposited within three months of the date of publication.

Research repositories
The majority of higher education institutions have an institutional repository or research archive. UEL’s repository is called ROAR: it contains a wide variety of research outputs including journal papers, book chapters, monographs, conference posters, theses and more.  Institutional repositories or research archives can enhance an institution’s profile, and as we have described above, manage research assets to meet the needs of funders. Open Access is about making research outputs accessible online. Within the academy this can lead to increased visibility and wider dissemination of work which may result in higher citation impact and opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration. Beyond the academy there may be increased public engagement, and more equitable access to research for those less privileged.

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