Certainly whilst I was working in FE, the labour period was one of growth and developments. Since the coalition and Conservative governments FE, like most areas of spending, has had its funding cut significantly. This paper is an interesting discussion of New Labour's policies in HE, in relation to WP as a key theme running through Labour's government.
Watson, D. (2006). New Labour and higher education. Perspectives, 10(4), 92-96.
Participation and social justice
Watson starts by suggesting that WP is a troublesome issue in HE, with a wide range of research identifying just as wide a range of 'answers' to the issues. Within the Higher Education Act 2004, there was discussion of 'under-represented groups' for the first time. Watson suggests that political interference into who is worthy or not worthy of support is a concern. He cites that admission tutors (Wilde et al., 2006 - see below for link). He dismisses Schwarz's arguments (DfES 2004a and 2004b). There is discussion over WP - it shouldn't just be about raising aspirations but also "fair access to prestigious institutions" (p. 93). This is not as big a problem as getting disadvantages students *to* university.
Watson suggests the following interventions:
- WP is about improving the quality of the school-based experience for all students, especially those from under-represented groups;
- WP is about parental expectations;
- WP is about governments and employers recognising that L3 is the key for the development of a learning society;
- WP is about employers living up to their promises of supporting younger and older workers in their learning journeys.
There is a tension between the expansion of HE and participation - an increase in HE places risks further disadvantaging non-participants.
Watson expresses concern that HEIs may think this is SEP, and continue to recruit those who are easiest to recruit, then look for others to meet the numbers.
From the Secretary of State's letter to HEFCE (2006): "The second priority is on WP for low income families - due to entrenched inequality, and equates to a waste of human capital" - from this quote it can be seen that the political focus is on capital.
HE and the public interest
What is the public interest in HE? It is not the same as that of the government or the state. He suggests we need to consider what is the university in a civil society, and how and for whom do HEIs work? Are students customers, clients or members? What is the effect of a university, as opposed to other methods of knowledge production? All of these affect public policy surrounding universities - with New Labour, Watson suggests that many policies are determined in spite of evidence rather than because of it. Plus ca change....
Facing the future
Watson suggest short term initiatives should be 'framed' within "an ambitious overall policy goal".
Some useful background information here. Also, it has forced me to consider the gap that WP can cause. It's fine to bang on about widening participation, but how does that leave those who cannot/do not want to go into HE? Second class citizens to the employer? Especially when considered in conjunction with the Wolf Report (previous post) where she bemoans the dearth of apprenticeships for young people. Not directly relevant to assignment one but interesting.
Further reading to do:
Wilde, Wright, Hayward, Johnson, Skerret, Nuffield review higher education focus groups: Preliminary report.