Wednesday, 16 December 2015

The transition from vocational education and training to higher education: a successful pathway?

Hoelscher, M., Hayward, G., Ertl, H., & Dunbar-Goddet, H. (2008). The transition from vocational education and training to higher education: a successful pathway? Research Papers in education, 23(2), 139-151.

This is an interesting paper as it briefly mentions something my tutor discussed and which I didn't really pick up on: post-hoc rationalisation of decision-making.

Because of the fragmentation of research, access to HE is considered a troublesome area. There is a policy aim to increase access to higher education through the vocational education and training (VET) route but the authors state that there has been little research into how effective these policies have been nor on the types of HEIs that VET students typically access.

Descriptive analysis: where/how individuals with differing prior educational backgrounds participate in HE.

Rationale: New Labour's social policy was the indivisibility of economic efficiency and social justice. Tony Blair said that employees should be equipped with the skills to help them prosper in the workforce. Therefore, the State’s role is ensuring provision of adequate opportunities to develop human capital.
There is a belief that more diverse educational opportunities beyond age 16 would lead to increasing and widening participation in HE. This produces both individual and social returns on investment.
There has been a large increase in participation in full time education beyond 16 (Hayward, 2006), not least due to the increase in level 3 vocational qualifications. These are marketed as a means of progressing to HE, and so widening participation. However, research has shown that this link is not strong. Research by Pugsley (2004) suggests that some vocational qualifications provide minimal opportunity for progression. Therefore there is room to consider whether the increase in participation in VET has increased participation of those from a VET background in HE.

Data sources: The authors used large scale administrative datasets, which were supplemented by case studies at five HEIs.

TO LOOK UP: Dunbar-Goddet and Ertl (2007) outline the theoretical framework and research questions and ibid. (2008) a detailed description of the questionnaire data.

Large scale datasets: The authors define five different types of prior education pathways: general academic; vocational; general academic and vocational; foundation and access courses, and not level three/not known. Perhaps I should consider using this definition? The authors discuss the problem of defining vocational education in the UK – this is also something I need to discuss. They choose a pragmatic, rather than a conceptual, definition. For a more in depth study, a consideration of the characteristics of vocational qualifications would be needed.

Case study data: Two surveys were undertaken with the entire intake of students in three subject areas (business, nursing and computing) at 5 HEIs, for the 06-07 academic year. Interviews with 40 students provided insights into rationales for choosing both HEI and subject. The authors mention the fact of post hoc rationalisation of the students’ decisions will take place and mention Hall (2001).
Hall, however, refers to Thomas, Adams and Birchenough’s study from 1996 “Student withdrawal from higher education”, where they state: “data collected through post-hoc student surveys must be treated with caution as it may reflect socially acceptable rationalisations of what actually happened”.

Distribution of students over institutions and subjects: Both institution and subject choice are influenced by a range of factors such as personal interests, social or ethnic background, social capital, etc. They are also influenced by prior attainment, such as educational background.

Institutional choices: HE students in FE were not analysed. There was an unequal distribution of students from different educational backgrounds in different HEI types. Only 13.5% of VET students were at pre-’92 institutions. VET students went to HEIs with the lowest RAE results; therefore, the authors suggest, A levels are the major route into more prestigious HEIs. It is possible that the students are what the authors call “tracked” into these less prestigious JEIs or track themselves into these HEIs.
Interviews gave a deeper understanding of individuals’ choices of institutions. The most common reason for choice was location, across all educational pathways. The second reason was the perceived quality of institution and/or course. There was often a process of ‘self limitation’ – students tended to exclude many institutions located beyond perceived barriers of physical (proximity to home), academic (grade requirements) or social (friends) space.

Subjects studied: Some subjects are more vocationally oriented than others. There must be fair access for those with non-traditional backgrounds across all academic areas, otherwise there is a continuation of the academic/vocational divide.
The authors used ‘odds-ratio’ to analyse the data. The greatest differences were found in medicine/dentistry and veterinary science, which had a 25 times lower entry for VET students. VET students were over-represented in ‘engineering and technology’, ‘business and admin’, education, agriculture and computer sciences. It is possible that those with vocational qualifications are more attracted to applied subjects.
Different wage premia are connected with degrees in different subjects, but there is no clear pattern between prior qualifications.

Is there a difference for subjects within different types of institution? A level students are much more likely to study at pre-’92 institutions, even when accounting for their subjects.

One explicit goal of the current widening participation agenda is to open up pathways for students from VET backgrounds into HE. The paper looked at the notion of “fair access”, encouraging a more even distribution of students from disadvantaged backgrounds across HEIs and courses which offer the highest financial returns. Although the policy appears effective (VET students are participating in HE), there is little evidence of the PARITY OF ESTEEM, with most VET students at post-’92 HEIs with lower RAE and QAA results. Reasons for this are associated with tracking within a stratified HE system and also individual choice. Tracking suggests that significant institutional barriers remain, funnelling VET students into post-92 HEIs. Personal choice is also involved and is highly individualised. This includes evidence of self-limitation through physical, academic and social barriers. The authors suggest that the policies riving these changes are too weak to achieve the desired outcome.

No comments:

Post a Comment