Fast-track access – a future model for widening participation

Butcher, J. and Curry, G. (2023). Fast-track access – a future model for widening participation. In: Raven, N ed. One Voice: Fusing Diverse Perspectives for Collective Action. Forum for Access and Continuing Education, pp. 129–148.


This chapter reports an innovation from the UK Open University aimed at targeting students from disadvantaged backgrounds with low prior entry qualifications. The University’s Access programme has registered around 4,000 students per year since 2013. However, as permitted by a university committed to open access, some new students who might need a preparatory experience instead choose to enter directly at undergraduate level. Internal longitudinal data suggests that this has had a negative impact on retention and success. As partial mitigation, the Access team ‘telescoped’ a part-time Access module from 30 weeks to 18 and timed it so that students progress to level 4 study without pause. As a result, a new student group were attracted, more focused on the benefits of preparing for undergraduate study. Evaluation revealed this group performed, were retained, and progressed significantly better than conventional Access students. The authors suggest the sector could further widen participation and success by giving greater attention to the needs of learners returning to study, particularly in relation to the duration and timing of access provision.

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