Widening participation strategy
Review: Widening Participation Strategy (2001-06)
The University’s widening participation strategy (2001-06) set out to raise aspirations and support retention and achievement within a context of delivering institutional growth. By 2001 the University had begun to plan a major new campus in Medway, embarked upon a series of successful bids for additional student numbers, established formal partnerships with three local FE colleges and had engaged in a variety of informal partnerships to improve participation and progression opportunities across Kent and Medway.
2007 and the University has established a new campus at Medway which is co-located with other higher and further education providers, providing a unique learning environment which is also recognised as making a major contribution to the regeneration of the area.
During this period it has also been one of the most successful institutions in England with regard receiving and delivering additional student numbers (an increase of 3154 full time equivalents since 2001).
Partnership working with our associate colleges remains strong, within the emerging context of foundation degree developments and the fledgling Lifelong Learning Networks. In addition to these existing partnerships the University has committed to formal partnership agreements with 19 local non-selective secondary schools to enhance progression to higher education. Kent has also worked closely with the Kent Adult Education Service (KAES) to secure a concordat to promote routes for adult learners.
Within the last 6 years there has been significant investment by the University to improve progression. Kent has also worked in partnership with projects, such as Kent and Medway Aimhigher, to widen participation. Involvement in this work has shifted from a small committed group across sectors towards a much wider engagement in the practical and academic support of transition into higher education.
The University has considerable talent amongst its academic and development staff who engage on a weekly basis with school and FE learners via delivery of a range of activities. Equally, more and more schoolteachers are engaging with the University, becoming actively involved and aware of the particular role that staff from the University can provide.
Last but not least, there has been a praiseworthy burgeoning of the systematic involvement of undergraduate and postgraduate students in the offering of pre HE curriculum and events. Both the diversity of the student body and the diversity of the learning experience at Kent are changing.
One area that has worsened considerably during this period has been that of adult learning opportunity and this has had a detrimental impact on the University’s aspirations to build upon existing foundations.
The University has had a strong tradition of liberal adult provision that it had planned to build upon and extend through targeting of particular community groups and the development of flexible provision. It had planned to proceed in partnership with local colleges and with adult education services. However, funding for adult learning places has dropped dramatically during this period and many of the learning opportunities once available have now been withdrawn. Only recently it was reported that up to 700,000 adult learning places have been lost due to cuts in funding. This of course has had a resultant negative effect on students accessing higher education.
The University has responded to the massive reduction in funding for adult learning in a number of ways.
- We have retained our commitment to develop an effective Assessment of Prior Experiential Learning (APEL) framework and the University now offers APEL and flexible professional development degrees via the Centre for Work and Learning.
- The University has retained its commitment to community based learning through the successful development of 0-1 level provision in outreach settings via blended learning (traditional and virtual learning environments).
- The University is also tackling nationally ‘problematic’ subject-specific areas with local solutions, for example by working in partnership with KAES to provide languages provision to adult learners.
- The University is also piloting work with parents as adult learners in school settings.
The University has succeeded in reaching the bold aims set out in the last widening participation strategy.
To continue to succeed the University will need to continue to drive forward a range of focussed participation objectives, while ensuring that gains over the last five years are consolidated. We need to innovate, create and evaluate and review in equal measure.
Engaging and maintaining the involvement of staff and students across our partnership work is vital to achieving broad participation, particularly in a world full of competing and unpredictable pressures.