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. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02671520802048679
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.
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
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
sources: The authors
used large scale administrative datasets, which were supplemented by case
studies at five HEIs.
LOOK UP: Dunbar-Goddet
and Ertl (2007) outline the theoretical framework and research questions and
ibid. (2008) a detailed description of the questionnaire data.
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.
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).
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”.
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
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 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
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.