Fast-track access - a future model for widening participation

Butcher, John and Curry, George (2024). Fast-track access - a future model for widening participation. In: Marr, Elizabeth; Gribble, Jill and Ubachs, George eds. Supporting Retention and Student Services in Online and Distance Education. The Netherlands: European Association of Distance Teaching Universities, pp. 82–86.



This report from the UK Open University is based on an innovation targeting students from disadvantaged backgrounds with low prior entry qualifications. The University’s Access programme has registered around 4,000 students annually since 2013, but a significant number of new students who might need a preparatory experience choose to enter directly at undergraduate level (as open access, permits). Internal data suggests that this has a negative impact on undergraduate retention and success as many students are insufficiently prepared. As partial mitigation, the Access team ‘telescoped’ a part-time Access module from 30 weeks to 18 and timed it to enable students to progress to undergraduate study in one academic year, therefore not adding an additional year to study time. As a result, a new demographic was attracted, more focused on the benefits of preparing for higher education. Initial evaluation revealed this group were highly motivated, and had significantly higher progression rates onto further study than conventional Access students. The authors suggest HE participation and success could be widened by giving greater attention to the needs of learners returning to study, particularly in relation to the flexibility, duration and timing of preparatory provision.

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