This blog is part of the series featuring ideas contained in the new HEPI-Brightside report, Reaching the parts of society universities have missed: A manifesto for the new Director for Fair Access and Participation. It introduces perspectives from schools and colleges and showcases the idea from Sophie Heaton, Higher Education Outreach Officer at UCEN Manchester.
The Office for Students should represent the interests of higher education students in every type of institution, not just universities. This means helping students understand all their options, allowing them to weigh up meaningful differences in potential routes so that they can make truly informed decisions. While important for all students, this is particularly crucial for those from disadvantaged backgrounds or under-represented groups, who may have more barriers to traditional university study and less knowledge of alternatives such as higher education in further education colleges. However, universities often dominate the widening participation higher education field. This has resulted in information, advice and guidance that is largely university focused.
I have seen many presentations, workshops and resources described as ‘impartial’ because they mention Foundation Degrees and Higher National Diplomas (HNDs). Unfortunately, these are often included as ‘other’ qualifications; an alternative, without any valuable explanation as to what they could mean for particular students.
The Office for Students should draw upon expertise in the further education sector and prioritise training for all widening participation staff, so that they can produce materials and activities that genuinely represent the entire sector and implement standards to guarantee their quality and accuracy. Higher education in further education needs a louder voice if we are to help more students, and it should be shouted about by staff in all types of institutions.