Do you have to be mobile to be socially mobile? Adult learners miss out again!

Fowle, Wendy and Butcher, John (2017). Do you have to be mobile to be socially mobile? Adult learners miss out again! In: Broadhead, S.; Hill, M.; Hudson, A.; McGlynn, C.; McKendry, S.; Raven, N.; Sims, D. and Ward, T. eds. Widening Participation in the Context of Economic and Social Change. Forum for Access and Continuing Education (FACE), pp. 153–162.


The paper reports on a preliminary review of institutional data against hot and cold spot areas identified in the recent Social Mobility Index (SMI) (Social Mobility Commission, 2016). The review sought to explore the extent to which Open University (OU) students from the lowest quintiles of the POLAR3 classification were represented in the SMI cold spot areas. Based on the premise that geographic mobility is a challenge for many disadvantaged students (Reay et al., 2001), a link between OU students from the lowest quintiles (one and two) and the cold spots may suggest that the opportunities open to them upon completion of their degree are limited. This potentially has implications for all HE providers if the HE sector is serious about tackling the dramatic decline in part-time student numbers over recent years (Butcher, 2015).

The review found that in the bottom 10 cold spot areas POLAR3 classification for OU students was predominantly within quintiles one or two and in the top 10 hot spots, quintiles four and five. Drawing on literature around the challenges for disadvantaged students, including mature and part-time, the implications of this were subsequently explored through a case study of the industrial town of Corby in the East Midlands area of England.

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