Impact and effectiveness of widening access to HE in Wales

Lead Research Organisation: Cardiff University
Department Name: Sch of Social Sciences

Abstract

The overall aim of the research is to analyse how individuals who are resident in Wales progress through secondary school, into sixth forms and further education colleges for post-16 education and on to higher education (HE). It will also explore what are the key factors here in determining whether individuals progress through the education system to HE or not.



The analysis will be based on the innovative use of three linked administrative data-sets:






  1. the National Pupil Database (NPD) for Wales


  2. the Lifelong Learning Wales Record (LLWR)


  3. Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) data.




It will be possible to trace individual trajectories through the education system to entry to HE; and to compare systematically the trajectories of those who do participate in HE with those who do not. Sophisticated statistical techniques will be used to determine the most influential factors in shaping patterns of HE participation. Results will be compared with those that have been produced by similar analyses in England.



A second part of the study (funded by additional resources made available by the HEFCW) will investigate the development of distinctive approaches to widening access to HE by successive Welsh administrations since devolution in 1999.


Planned Impact

The proposed study is based on a close collaboration between WISERD, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) and the Welsh Government (WG). Both user organisations - and especially the HEFCW - have been involved in the development of the proposed study's aims and its design. The HEFCW is therefore contributing resources to maximise the impact of the secondary data analysis being proposed. This close relationship will be maintained throughout the project, by means of monthly meetings to monitor progress and evaluate the implications of emerging research results. An Advisory Group will enable the engagement of a wider range of stakeholders.
The results of the proposed research will be fed directly into deliberations over national policy within the WG and into policy development by the HEFCW. In the longer term, then, the proposed research has the potential to contribute towards increasing overall levels of participation in HE by individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. This would be congruent with the current WG's overall ambition of 'realising learners' potential' and 'reducing inequalities in education', as set out in the 2011 Programme for Government; as well as with the HEFCW's commitment to use widening access to HE as a means of alleviating social and economic disadvantage (HEFCW, 2012). These considerations will be especially pertinent at a time when the WG will be evaluating the implications of its distinctive approach to raising student fees for patterns of access to HE, as the effects of raising the fees cap are felt across the UK (Andrews, 2010). Similarly, the research will provide an important input to HEFCW's revision of its widening access strategies during the period up until Spring 2014.
In addition to the ongoing engagement of the HEFCW and the WG in the proposed study, results will be communicated through a series of Research Reports, published via the WISERD web-site (see 'Pathways to Impact' for details). There will also be a policy seminar with the HEFCW and the WG at the end of the project, when the implications of its results will be considered systematically. It is also recognised that widening access to HE is an issue of considerable significance in civil society more widely. Therefore, a national conference will be organised, again at the end of the proposed study, in order to stimulate wider debate. WISERD's established relationships with think-tanks, such as the Bevan Foundation and the Institute of Welsh Affairs, will be drawn upon to facilitate this event (as well as other forms of dissemination). It is hoped that the proposed research may stimulate a 'national debate' on access to HE.
More immediately, the proposed study aims to assist the WG and the HEFCW deliver the following objectives in widening access to HE in Wales: 'propose relevant indicators, targets and milestones; decisively tackle shortcomings in institutional strategy and delivery; and contribute to a strong constructive relationship between the Government, HEFCW and the HE community.' (Welsh Assembly Government (2009), pp. 20-21) In particular, it will demonstrate the utility of secondary data analysis (SDA) in developing the technical means by which to evaluate widening-access policies. Moreover, a notable feature of the proposed study is that it aims to contribute not only at this national level of policy-making, but also to the implementation of widening-access strategies within the Welsh higher education institutions (HEIs). Utilising the funding made available by the HEFCW, the research will provide guidance, support and training in the use of large-scale secondary data for future monitoring of widening-access strategies in Welsh HEIs. Of key importance here will be a series of workshops with Welsh HEIs, which will consider the implications of the proposed research for the day-to-day practices of the professionals responsible for implementing widening-access strategies at this level.
 
Description Wales Widening Access Data-base
One of the innovative features of this research is that it began with the construction of a new data-set, which allowed us to track the trajectories of individuals resident in Wales from the compulsory phase of their education, through post-16 studies in schools and further education colleges, to higher education (to completion of their programmes). Data for the compulsory phase was drawn from the National Pupil Database (NPD) for Wales (incorporating Pupil-level Annual Schools Census (PLASC) data). For post-16 students, two data sources were used: the Welsh Examinations Database (WED) for school-based students and the Lifelong Learning Wales Record (LLWR) for those in further education colleges. Finally, data on those individuals who went on to higher education were drawn from the individual student records of the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA). The key point here is that information from these various sources were drawn together for each individual; and it is these linked, individual-level data that comprise the Wales Widening Access Database, which provided the basis for a major part of the present study.

Analysis
For the first time in Wales, therefore, we were able to carry out sophisticated statistical modelling, which allowed us to specify which factors (previous educational attainment levels, gender, ethnic background, entitlement to free school meals, where they lived, the sort of school they attended and so forth) were the key determinants of participation in higher education, whilst taking account of the influence of the other contributory factors. Our initial approach was simply to replicate what had been done for England in previous research, not least to enable us to make meaningful comparisons between the two sets of results. However, we also extended the English analysis, in particular, to see whether schools and local authorities influenced patterns of participation in higher education, over and above the effects of individual characteristics. In addition, we were concerned to explore not only what determined entry to higher education, but also patterns of progression to graduation. Accordingly, we believe that our analysis not only provides new insights with respect to Wales, but also extends the more general literature.

Findings
Our findings emphasized that in Wales - as in England - young people from more advantaged socioeconomic backgrounds are much more likely to participate in higher education than their less advantaged peers. However, much - although not all - of this relationship between socioeconomic disadvantage and participation in higher education is accounted for by previous educational attainment. In addition, our multilevel approach enabled us to identify substantial differences between schools in terms of the chances of their pupils participating in higher education, over and above the effects of pupils' individual characteristics (such as educational attainment and ethnic background). Moreover, there are substantial differences between local authorities in terms of the chances of their pupils participating in higher education, over and above the effects of pupils' individual characteristics (such as educational attainment and ethnic background) and the schools that they attend. These latter findings have not generally been reported elsewhere in the literature; and are - potentially - highly significant for the development of public policy in this area.
Exploitation Route The Wales Widening Access Database potentially constitutes an important resource for further analysis of educational trajectories in Wales (as well as comparatively with England). Currently, WISERD is negotiating with the Welsh Government on making it available to researchers through the Wales Administrative Data Research Centre. More specifically, the findings of this research project indicate that multilevel models provide a fruitful avenue for the analysis of the determinants of entry to higher education. Accordingly, this sort of approach will be taken further by researchers within WISERD.
This research project was carried out in close collaboration with the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) and the Welsh Government. Our findings have already been extensively communicated and discussed with these bodies; and are beginning to have an influence on the development of policy. For example, HEFCW undertakes to 'take into account' our findings in the development of its 'Widening Access Strategic Approach' (HEFCW Circular W15/04HE, p.2). In addition, we were invited to present evidence (based on our findings) to the Welsh Government appointed Review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance Arrangements in Wales (chaired by Sir Ian Diamond). There is every indication that we shall continue to feed in the results of our research to the development of policy within Wales.
More generally too, we have engaged systematically with the higher education sector through our working papers, seminars and other meetings. Again, it is expected to develop this work further, not only with the Welsh universities, but also schools and colleges (through presentations to the teaching unions, for example) and organizations outside of Wales (such as SPA).
Sectors Education

URL http://wiserd.ac.uk/research/education/current-projects/impact-and-effectiveness-widening-access-he-wales/
 
Description In broad terms, the development of the social and economic impact of the project has proceeded in line with the strategy set out in 'Pathways to Impact'. The findings have been fed into the current debates about higher education policy in Wales. For example, following our presentation of results to the Welsh Government appointed Review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance Arrangements in Wales (chaired by Sir Ian Diamond) in July 2014, we were asked to present further evidence to the Review that examined patterns of access to part-time higher education in Wales. The Interim Report from the Review (published on 18 December 2015) draws extensively on both of our presentations and our report on part-time access is reproduced in full. However, evidence as to the impact of our research on the recommendations of the Review will have to await the publication of the final report in 2016. We have also been consulted on our research by Professor Ellen Hazelkorn, who is conducting the Review of the Regulation and Oversight of Post-compulsory Education and Training in Wales, with special reference to the future roles and functions of the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW), on behalf of the Welsh Government. Again, evidence of impact on recommendations will become available only when the final report is published. On 17 December 2015, a policy seminar was held (at the request of the Welsh Government) to consider the recommendations for policy made in our report to HEFCW (see below). Again, as yet, there is no evidence of impacts on actual policy outputs, although we are assured that our input to the policy development process will continue into 2016. As with the two Reviews, we shall continue to monitor developments for evidence of such impacts. We have also engaged systematically in the development of HEFCW's policies, especially with respect to widening access. Our report for HEFCW, 'Access to Higher Education in Wales', was published in September 2015 and has been debated extensively within HEFCW. We have been invited to give the plenary presentation at HEFCW's widening access conference in May 2016. This follows on from our presentation at the previous HEFCW widening access conference. In addition, we have prepared 'Guidance for Evaluating Widening Access to Higher Education Activities', which will be distributed by HEFCW to universities and other organisations responsible for delivering widening access initiatives. This Guidance is intended to support the development of more effective approaches to the evaluation of widening access initiatives. It builds on not only the results of our research, but also the feedback that we received from the 'widening access professionals' who attended workshops on our research held in Bangor, Cardiff and Swansea during the autumn of 2014. More generally too, we have sought to make the results of our research available to a wide range of 'professional practitioners'. Hence, for example, we have advised Careers Wales on the effectiveness of their 'Careers Wales Mark' to schools, in terms of progression to HE. We have also communicated our research results directly with teachers and lecturers, especially through presentations at the conferences of teaching trade unions (such as ATL, ASCL and NUT). We have also begun to try to influence the development of policy and practice beyond Wales, through, for example, collaboration with organisations such as SPA and presentations of our research to institutions such as King's College, London. As we have emphasised, up until now, our activities have been focused on direct engagement with policy-makers and professional practitioners in order to communicate the results of our research and to feed into the processes of policy and practice development. At this stage, we are unable to provide robust evidence of changes in policy or practice that flow from our research. This emphasises, of course, the extended time-scales necessary to effect such impacts. We shall continue to monitor any developments of this latter kind.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Education
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description Evidence to the Diamond Review Higher Education Funding and Student Finance Arrangements in Wales
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
 
Description HEFCE Roundtable Discussion on Widening Participation UK Performance Indicators
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
 
Description HEFCW Data Workshop
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact This was a workshop organised for university administrators in Wales who use data to monitor their performance. The contribution at this workshop was on the use of longitudinal data for monitoring widening access activities. University administrators are now more aware of how they can use their own data for monitoring widening access activities and what requirements they need to undertake when collecting primary data on such activities.
 
Title Widening Access Databse 
Description This database is based upon four linked administrative data-sets: 1. The National Pupil Database (NPD) for Wales (including Pupil Level Annual Schools Census data); 2. Individual learner records from the Lifelong Learning Wales Record (LLWR) for young people who are registered at post-compulsory educational institutions (not including school sixth forms); 3. Examination records for those attending sixth form from the Welsh Examinations Database (WED); and 4. Individual student records from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA). 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The database was used in the Welsh Government's evaluation of the impacts of the Education Maintenance Allowance: Bryer, N. with Williams, G. and Davies, Rh. (2014) Evaluation of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), Social Research Report 91/2014, Cardiff: Welsh Government. 
URL http://www.wiserd.ac.uk/files/4414/0429/5230/Working_Paper_WAQNCW2014-2.pdf
 
Description Widening Access to HE: Policy Initiatives in Wales 
Organisation Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW)
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Data collection and analysis through documentary analysis and fieldwork (interviews, etc.), to provide an evaluation of current policy initiatives on widening access to HE in Wales.
Collaborator Contribution Advice and support on policy developments, identifying key actors, etc.
Impact A Long Way Short of a People's University WISERD Working Paper Series: WAQNCW2013-1, WAQNCW2014-2, WAQLCE2014-5, -6, -8, -9, -11
Start Year 2013
 
Description ASCL Cymru Deputy Headteachers Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Chris Taylor was invited to give a keynote presentation to the Association of School and College Leaders (Cymru) Deputy Headteachers annual conference in Cardiff. We were asked to give a presentation on the findings from the ESRC widening access to higher education project, most notably the role of schools on participation rates to university.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Careers Wales Board seminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Presentation of research results to Careers Wales Board's away-day. Led to collaboration with Careers Wales on further research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Evidencing Impact and Success in Widening Access to Higher Education in Wales (SPA Swansea) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation of research results to workshop comprising widening access professionals. Requests for further information from participants.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Evidencing Impact and Success in Widening Access to Higher Education in Wales (Student Services Managers' Network Conference Llandrindod Wells) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation of research results to professional practitioners. Requests for further information from participants.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description HEFCW Student Experience and Teaching Quality Committee 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/parliamentarians
Results and Impact Committee members engaged with the presentation through questions and discussion.

Plans made for future related activity.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description HEFCW/Welsh Government Policy seminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Presentation of research results to seminar of senior officials from HEFCW and the Welsh Government. Discussion of the policy implications of the research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Open University/WonkHE Conference on the Diamond Review 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact A short presentation on the implications of the study's results for evaluating the implications of the Diamond Review's recommendations on student finance in Wales. Questions and discussion followed.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Part-time HE presentation to the Diamond Review 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Presentation of research results to the Diamond Review. The work is extensively referenced in the Review's Interim Report.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Regional Workshops 2014 (Bangor); Series of Presentations - The Determinants of Higher Education Participation; Approaches to widening access in Wales and Implications for Policy and Practice 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 11-50 Professional Practitioners attended the regional workshops in Cardiff, Swansea and Bangor and discussed the contribution of research to wider debates on Higher Education participation and policy making.

Increase in requests for further informaion.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Regional Workshops 2014 (Cardiff); Series of Presentations - The Determinants of Higher Education Participation; Approaches to widening access in Wales and Implications for Policy and Practice 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 11-50 Professional Practitioners attended the regional workshops in Cardiff, Swansea and Bangor and discussed the contribution of research to wider debates on Higher Education participation and policy making.

Increase in requests for further information.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Regional Workshops 2014 (Swansea); Series of Presentations - The Determinants of Higher Education Participation; Approaches to widening access in Wales and Implications for Policy and Practice 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 11-50 Professional Practitioners attended the regional workshops in Cardiff, Swansea and Bangor and discussed the contribution of research to wider debates on Higher Education participation and policy making.

Increase in requests for information.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description SRHE Seminar Presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Project results were presented to a mixed audience of widening access practitioners, policy-makers and researchers. Questions and discussion followed the presentation.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Universities Association for Lifelong Learning 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Those present engaged with the presentation through questions and discussion.

Increase in requests for further information.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description WISERD Education Seminar Series (2013): What is 'widening access' to higher education? An exploration of approaches adopted by HEIs to 'widening access' to HE in Wales'. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact 11-50 fellow academics attended the paper presentation and discussed contribution of research to wider debates on Higher Education participation.

Plans made for future related activity.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013