For over 25 years the Access to Higher Education (HE) Diploma has provided opportunities for those who are from a range of backgrounds that are traditionally underrepresented in higher education.
It has successfully addressed educational disadvantage and has played a significant role in raising the aspirations of thousands of adults who have gone on to greatly improve their career prospects.
Access to HE offers a route for those who would otherwise face exclusion from a wide range of professions, including those within the heath and social care sector.
The Access to Higher Education Diploma has become an increasingly popular route for adults to progress to academic and professional qualifications at university. The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) revealed that in 2011 there was a 40% increase in those registering on Access to HE programmes (QAA 2011a) and that in particular ‘vocational courses continue to be popular, particularly in healthcare – 30 per cent of courses running were categorised as Health, Public Services and Care.’ (QAA 2011b)
The aspirations of adults to progress towards careers in nursing and midwifery have led to a notable increase in Access to HE provision at further education colleges, who of course value high success rates and would not care for provision that could not consistently perform against challenging national averages. Despite this, Access courses are not by any means offered as an easy route toward a bursary supported degree programme and the subsequent secure career opportunities that that would offer. In fact, Access students must demonstrate a great deal of commitment and overcome significant personal barriers in order to obtain the Access to HE Diploma, which in itself does not guarantee automatic progression. Since 2009, the qualification has been graded and the conditional offers made by universities for degree programmes in nursing, and in particular midwifery, have become increasingly challenging. This challenge extends to the colleges that offer these qualifications. The external quality assurance procedures of awarding organisations, who are licensed by the QAA, have become increasingly robust in order to secure the credibility of the Access diploma. Failure to meet national standards are rapidly addressed and overcome.
Access to HE programmes go through a rigorous validation and regular revalidation process whereby the contribution of higher education partners is a strict requirement. Access courses have always reflected the requirements of the courses they feed in terms of their content and in terms of the skills that learners have the opportunity to acquire. Institutions that have a highly regarded reputation for training nurses and midwives acknowledge the extent to which Access to HE provides comprehensive preparation for the adults they regularly recruit:
The Faculty of Health and Social Care at London South Bank University welcomes applications from Access Course students to all its programmes, including the BSc Midwifery. This means that staff involved in the delivery of Higher Education programmes are able to influence the content of Access Programmes and ensure that subjects of direct professional relevance are included…Far from failing to adequately equip students with the academic and communication skills, or the skills to manage their own learning and to work with others, our experience has demonstrated that the Access programmes produce students who are able to reach the same level of achievement, if not higher, than their fellow students who have progressed through a more traditional educational pathway. As mature individuals, Access students have life experiences and personal qualities lacking in younger students and they are able to use these to develop tools and strategies to enhance learning. (Gradwell 2012)
It is unfortunate that there are some who are responsible for higher education admissions that overlook the Access to HE Diploma as a valuable source of future midwives, nurses and other professionals. It is clearly misguided to simply rely upon traditional qualifications that do not have the advantage of exploiting the valuable life experiences that adult returners to education bring with them. They are equipped to express an adequate awareness of the profession they are pursuing in a mature and informed manner. Access learners are encouraged to be independent learners, to interact with others professionally, to think analytically and critically, to evaluate and reflect upon their previous, current and future learning and the vast majority of them ultimately make ideal candidates for progression onto the careers they have carefully chosen for themselves.
- Gradwell M (2012). Email to Victor Morgan, February.
- QAA (2011a):
- QAA (2011b):
Contributor: Victor Morgan, Curriculum Manager, Waltham Forest College
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