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Widening higher education participation in rural communities in England: An anchor institution model

Abstract

Against a United Kingdom policy background of attempts to widen higher education participation in a socially inclusive direction, this article analyses theory, policy and practice to understand why past efforts have had limited success and to propose an alternative: an “anchor institution” model. A university and a private training provider were the principal partners in this venture, known as the South-West Partnership (pseudonym); the model was developed by them to meet the particular needs of mature female students who want and/or need to study part-time in a rural, coastal and isolated area of south-west England. While the concept of “anchor institutions” has previously been used in government social policy, and in higher education to promote knowledge transfer, it has not yet been adopted as a method for widening participation. The research study presented in this article investigated the effectiveness of the model in widening higher education participation in the context of the South-West Partnership. The study was conducted within an interpretivist theoretical framework. It accessed student voices to illustrate the character of education required to widen participation in vocational higher education by mature female students in rural communities, through semi-structured qualitative interviews on a range of topics identified from relevant theoretical literature, and by drawing on the research team’s professional knowledge and experience. These topics included student aspirations and career destinations, motivations, access, learning experiences, and peer and tutor support. It is hoped the findings will inform the future development of adult vocational higher education provision in rural areas, where opportunities have been limited, and encourage further application of the anchor institution model for widening participation elsewhere.

Résumé

Élargir la participation des communautés rurales anglaises à l’enseignement supérieur : le modèle d’institution d’ancrage – Sur fond d’une politique menée par le Royaume-Uni de Grande-Bretagne et d’Irlande du Nord visant à élargir la participation à l’enseignement supérieur dans un esprit d’inclusion sociale, cet article en analyse la théorie, les politiques et les pratiques afférentes, dans le but de cerner les raisons pour lesquelles les efforts déployés ont rencontré un succès limité, et de proposer une alternative : un modèle « d’institution d’ancrage ». Une université et un organisme privé de formation étaient les principaux partenaires de cette initiative connue sous le nom de Partenariat Sud-Ouest (pseudonyme). Ils ont élaboré ce modèle pour répondre aux besoins spécifiques de femmes adultes souhaitant et/ou devant suivre des études à temps partiel dans une région rurale, côtière ou isolée du Sud-Ouest de l’Angleterre. Si le concept « d’institution d’ancrage » a été auparavant utilisé dans des politiques sociales publiques ainsi que dans l’enseignement supérieur en vue de promouvoir le transfert des connaissances, il n’a pas encore été adopté en tant que méthode censée élargir la participation. L’étude de recherche présentée ici examine l’efficacité du modèle à élargir la participation à l’enseignement supérieur dans le contexte du Partenariat Sud-Ouest. Elle a été menée dans un cadre d’interprétation théorique. Elle fait entendre les opinions des étudiantes en vue d’illustrer le caractère requis de la formation pour élargir la participation à l’enseignement professionnel supérieur des femmes adultes dans les communautés rurales – ce à travers des interviews qualitatives semi-structurées sur une série de thèmes tirés de la littérature théorique afférente, ainsi que les connaissances et expériences professionnelles de l’équipe de recherche. Parmi ces thèmes figurent les aspirations, intentions et motivations des étudiantes, leur accès à la formation, leurs expériences d’apprentissage, enfin le soutien de la part des pairs et des tuteurs. L’auteur espère que les résultats de cette étude éclaireront le développement futur de l’enseignement professionnel supérieur des adultes dans les régions rurales caractérisées par des opportunités limitées, et encourageront l’extension du modèle de l’institution d’ancrage dans l’optique d’élargir la participation en d’autres lieux.

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Notes

  1. Higher education refers to study undertaken after completion of secondary school.

  2. In the UK, mature students are considered to be those aged 21 or over at the start of their studies.

  3. “Satellite” campuses or colleges are branches of a larger institution, located in different areas.

  4. Vocational higher education refers to technical training related to specific occupations or trades; outcomes range from certificates to diplomas. It is also commonly referred to as further education (FE) or vocational education and training (VET).

  5. Neo-liberal dogma refers to a rigid form of liberal politics that favours free-market capitalism; austerity is a set of government measures designed to reduce public expenditure.

  6. Interpretivist perspectives refer to the theoretical view that reality is socially constructed and therefore contingent upon place, culture and social relationships; Bourdieusian perspectives extend the Marxist concept of economic capital to explain social hierarchies and power relationships in terms of social, educational, cultural, financial and symbolic capital.

  7. The journal Research in Post-Compulsory Education published an entire special issue on higher education in further education colleges (2016, Volume 21, Issue 1–2), entitled “Appraising and Reconfiguring HE in FE through Research and Critical Perspectives”.

  8. A “level 2” qualification is a secondary school leaving certificate also known as General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE; formerly Ordinary or O-level). It enables students who do not want to continue to A-levels to leave school and embark on an apprenticeship or join the workforce (with training) straight away. Level 3 is explained in footnote 10.

  9. The National Student Survey (NSS) is conducted annually by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) to examine students’ opinions on the quality of their courses. For more information (and current figures), see http://www.hefce.ac.uk/lt/nss/results/ [accessed 21 November 2017].

  10. The British “level 3” secondary school leaving certificate, also known as General Certificate of Education (GCE) Advanced Level (A-level), qualifies school leavers to enter higher education, ”level 4”.

  11. Day release means that employers “release” their employees, usually for one day per week, to attend off-site training.

  12. Third stream activity refers to universities linking with business and other external organisations to promote knowledge exchange.

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Correspondence to Geoffrey Elliott.

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Elliott, G. Widening higher education participation in rural communities in England: An anchor institution model. Int Rev Educ 64, 65–84 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11159-017-9696-4

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11159-017-9696-4

Keywords

  • higher education
  • widening participation
  • lifelong learning
  • access
  • rural
  • anchor institutions