The education system in the UK is still considerably affected by a deficit-based mind-set, in which students are thought to have “gaps” in knowledge that schools and universities need to address. This affects the learners’ transition into higher education and the subsequent student experience. The focus is on trying to fix what is “wrong”, teach what is “missing” and neglect any talents that students already have.
Forcing students to spend most of the time in their areas of weakness is not going to make much learning happen. In the UK, students from the “widening-participation” category struggle with the difficult transition to higher education. Regardless of background, every student has innate talents that provide a basis for achievement in higher education and beyond (Krutkowski, 2017).
Advocates of widening participation often find that they have to prove the value of expanding higher education provision and that they are not sacrificing standards out of misguided altruism. It has been shown, however, that people who enter higher education with low qualifications or by using a non-traditional route can do well in their degrees. Research carried out at universities in Leeds and Kent has shown that once students have won a place at university, those who were accepted with weaker entry qualifications seem to have as good a chance of success as those with good entry qualifications. Similarly, students who gained entry via non-traditional routes (such as GNVQ, foundation or access courses) were found to perform at a similar level to students with ‘A’ levels and a more traditional educational background (Midgley, 2002).
Supporters of widening participation are keen to point out that people develop their interests or peak at different times and that universities should be there for when people are ready to study at a higher level. The alternative is rather bleak. If universities concentrate too much upon recruiting people at the end of A levels, they will surely miss out on a broad array of students who want the opportunity to study at university perhaps as a result of failing to find suitable work without a degree.
a. Identify the importance of the foundation year for students from wide participation backgrounds and explain why it is important.
b. Explain the key challenges facing foundation year students.
c. Discuss how study skills in higher education can help foundation year students overcome some of these challenges.