Are Access courses successful? A case study of access courses in a further education college

Wiltsher, Ruth (2005). Are Access courses successful? A case study of access courses in a further education college. EdD thesis The Open University.



Access to Higher Education (HE) courses provided in Further Education (FE) Colleges are an established part of the Government's drive to widen participation in HE. Like all FE courses, Access courses must justify their continuation by demonstrating their success. This dissertation reports on a case study of Access courses provided by one department in a general FE College in the North of England, and examines whether or not they are successful.

A review of relevant literature suggests that a key issue is by what criteria Access courses are to be judged. Policy makers, quality assurance agencies, HE Institutions, college managers, course managers, course tutors and students all have perspectives on 'success', which overlap and often are in tension.

The research explores these perspectives, drawing on both qualitative and quantitative data, using an ethnographical framework. Semi-structured interviews with students, staff and others complement management data from internal and external sources. A grounded theory approach was used to generate themes of interest for analysis. The participant observer status of the researcher provided additional insight, as well as raising issues.

The research suggests that in the discussion of success of these Access courses there is a tension between two dominant discourses, here labelled the managerialist discourse and the humanist discourse. Tension is found to result from the difference between criteria for the success of courses and criteria for the success of individuals. The research demonstrates the significance of students' perspectives on 'success'.

Criteria for success that took into account more qualitative information could be developed but would require a shift in policy. Issues are raised in the dissertation concerning the reliability of available data and suggestions are made as to potential future development and further research.

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