Widening participation in higher education: a case study and evaluation

DProf thesis


Cunningham, S. 2011. Widening participation in higher education: a case study and evaluation. DProf thesis Middlesex University Institute of Work Based Learning.
TypeDProf thesis
TitleWidening participation in higher education: a case study and evaluation
AuthorsCunningham, S.
Abstract

This report is an outcome of a research project exploring lecturers’ understanding of widening participation (WP) and how this influences their practice in one North London University. The project was undertaken as part of my DProf studies and was developed from my role and position within the School of Health and Social Sciences in co-ordinating and communicating WP activities. This project was undertaken over five years (2004 – 2009) and was influenced by local and national political and social changes most particularly the range of Higher Education Funding Council documents impacting on WP. Main approach used: In a desire to explore WP and through multiple perspectives a mixed methods methodology was selected epistemological umbrella of transformative learning arising from an emancipatory paradigm. Meizerow’s (2003) epistemology of transformative learning provides a lens by which to explore lecturers’ perceptions of WP and practices, challenge conventional notions of WP, explore the extent to which WP is mainstreamed or embedded WP within the organisation and the relationship with pedagogical practices. This project was in three stages. Firstly, a focus group of lecturers, then separate individual lecturers were interviewed to explore perceptions of WP and pedagogical approaches (n= 12). Secondly, groups of diverse students completed a questionnaire (n=195) asking for their experiences of teaching and learning with a few (n=6) interviewed individually. Thirdly, an internal working group explored the wider university commitment to WP and how embedded this is in departments and services. Quantitative data from questionnaires and institutional data was analysed descriptively for frequency and correlations (Pearson’s correlation co-efficient via SPSS v.15). Qualitative data was analysed using textual thematic analysis, both manually and using CAQDAS (Nud*st) software. Conclusions: There were several conclusions: 1. Lecturers and teaching. a. No single understanding of WP. b. Some lecturers demonstrate sensitive and intuitive support but this is not widely disseminated. c. Identify limited insight into students’ lives and experiences. d. View WP as deficiencies, remedial and someone else’s ‘job’. 2. Students and learning. a. As a group students would not describe themselves as diverse but ‘typical’ students. b. Students value personal connections with lecturers. 3. University Role. a. Initiatives to address the student experience subsume the needs of WP and all students. b. Communication across services and departments is unclear and not cohesive. c. Varied discourses of WP at different levels and high level commitment demonstrated at senior level. Recommendations:
The key recommendations focussed on promoting WP in existing good practice in teaching and learning and utilise existing process to make WP core and embedded. 1. Lecturers: Promote dialogue of WP and raise issues pertinent to teaching and learning. - Staff development in relation to practice for inclusive teaching or teaching diverse groups utilising existing procedures via preparation route (PGCHE) or established teaching observations or appraisals. - WP ‘Champions’ to advocate and promote inclusive practice. 2. Students: Build on good practice to maximise students’ sense of ‘value’ and positive student experience. 3. University: To locate a ‘home’ for WP so it can be more effectively monitored and disseminated and accounted for. - Embed WP within core working processes (e.g. validation or programme monitoring). - Promote the dialogue of WP and inclusivity consistently from higher levels to student interface levels to enhance a culture of diversity and inclusivity.

LanguageEnglish
Department nameInstitute of Work Based Learning.
File
Institution nameMiddlesex University
Publication dates
Print09 May 2012
Publication process dates
Deposited09 May 2012
CompletedMay 2011
Output statusPublished
Additional information

Please note that Appendix 2, "Reflection of DProf Journey", and Appendix 9, "Middlesex University Policy Documents used in analysis of WP", are not included in the version of the project report provided here.

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