FACE e-Bulletin | February 2023

FACE e-Bulletin | February 2023

Another month has flown by!  As ever, the epic theme affecting our work as widening participation practitioners concerns social mobility.  This month’s newsletter tries to explore some of the key debates currently surrounding this matter, including the role that technical education it is likely to play in our work in the future, as well as planned changes to admissions.


FACE e-bulletin

Epic Theme and New Activity

Another month has flown by!  As ever, the epic theme affecting our work as widening participation practitioners concerns social mobility.  This month’s newsletter tries to explore some of the key debates currently surrounding this matter, including the role that technical education it is likely to play in our work in the future, as well as planned changes to admissions. On a not entirely unrelated matter, I was struck when listening to the latest edition of the SOAS FACE podcast where the interview with Julian Crockford emphasised the complexity and care needed with evaluation.

There has also been wide ranging discussion about the funding and value of higher education this month.  The Attitudes to Higher Education Survey (published by UPP and HEPI) reveals that two-thirds of the public think that maintenance grants should be re-introduced but only 10 per cent think students should get support with the cost of living.  This comes as the legislation for the Lifelong Loan Entitlement was present to parliament.  WONKHE have pointed out that, at the time of writing, only 33 students have signed up for the pilots currently taking place.  On the theme of skills development, HEPI have been producing some interesting blogs, including this one on how universities can be pivotal in supporting NHS workforce development. 
February saw National Apprenticeship week.  It was great to see so many activities to promote apprenticeships being offered by so many providers.  One of the key announcements during the week concerned UCAS’s plan to publish information on higher and degree apprenticeships next year.  The Times Higher was one of many publications discussing the significance of this change.  You can read about some of the potential consequences of other changes UCAS ae planning later in the e-bulletin.

The role of higher education in any format will remain a key talking point for decades to come.  In this blog Fiona Walsh discusses community engagement, and while there is now on a race to select a new First Minister for Scotland, many commentators are thinking about where higher education will sit in the discussions that will shape the next General Election, whenever that is called.

With all the epic themes swirling around us, the Office for Students have outlined how they will be reviewing 2021/2022 Access and Participation Plans.  It sounds as though a desk-based and proportionate approach will be taken, which many will be thankful for.  As ever, our important work continues unabated.

Have great month,

The FACE Team

The Future of Technical Education
A UVAC Opinion

Westminster Government has been clear for some time that it wants more individuals to take Level 4 and 5 Higher Technical Qualifications (HTQs). Additionally, UVAC (as a representative body) has been working with the higher education (HE) sector to develop new progression routes from T levels at Level 3 to higher technical education, higher and degree apprenticeships and HE programmes. From a higher-level skills perspective, although many of the occupations where there is a real need for growth are at level 6 (bachelor’s degree) and at the level of professional skills, for example police constables and registered nurses in the public sector and STEM occupations in the private sector, there are occupational areas where higher technical provision needs to be expanded. Higher technical occupations in the health, construction, digital and engineering sectors being good examples.


Perspectives on Higher Technical Education

I was asked to provide my perspective on higher technical education (HTE) at a recent roundtable attended by Department for Education (DfE), Gatsby, Institute for Apprenticeship and Technical. All part of the ongoing information collecting and listening exercises that prevails in the HTE space. In this brief blog I will share with you the two themes my team and I are exploring about higher technical education at our institution, that emerged from the roundtable discussion.

Read the full blog

Questions about an (un)certain future

It often feels that change is, to quote Shakespeare, the ‘wild water’ that engulf us all in our practice.  This change is often born out of debate about the purpose of education.  A debate that will continue to ebb and flow from Plato and Aristotle, to Thorndike and Dewey.  Through all that, though, one thing has been more certain in recent times, outcomes have become the central discourse in education (thinking about Graduate Outcomes surveys, Ofsted judgements on impact and so on).  Some of this discourse takes into account starting points of individuals, community and industry and some does not, and this makes the job of promoting and developing appropriate routes challenging.

Read the whole blog

Changes to UCAS references: the potential impact on widening participation students

By Dr John Baldwin

UCAS have been holding webinars to announce the change to references written for students by their schools and colleges as part of the UCAS application process.  In future the content of the reference will be much reduced.  The only details needed are:
  • A general statement about the school and college
  • Any extenuating circumstances which might affect an applicant’s performance in exams or assessments
  • Any other circumstances specific to the applicant that universities/colleges should be aware of.
In the webinars it is suggested that for most applicants only the first section will need to be completed.

I am a higher education advisor in a further education college and I imagine that my teaching colleagues will be delighted that they will no longer need to spend a great deal of time producing an objective, informative and considered reference.  However, I believe they will also be concerned that admissions tutors will not be fully aware of the applicant’s abilities and attributes when deciding whether they should be accepted on to their course.  This particularly applies to vocational students who are applying for courses such as nursing, midwifery, fashion design or performing arts when our tutors had previously been nurses, midwives, fashion designers and actors. They believed that it would be helpful to the admission tutor to have their views on the abilities and suitability of the applicants to join these professions – particularly nurses and midwives. Plainly this is not the case.

UCAS have indicated that the reason for this change is:
  • ‘Universities and colleges have told us that it’s becoming challenging to meaningfully compare applicants’ academic references as the content varies from referee to referee.  
  • Advisers report increasing pressure to invest more and more time in compiling the references with an expectation that this will increase applicants’ chances of success.’ 

UCAS (2023)

So, rather than attempting to remedy these concerns UCAS have decided to ditch full references altogether.

During the webinars it was suggested that the students’ personal statement will be even more important in future because some of the content of the references, such as employer feedback after a student’s work experience will need to be in the statement. I believe that this is concerning for those students from a widening participation background

I am a higher education advisor at a further education college.  Compared with school sixth forms, FE colleges such as mine recruit a higher proportion of students from disadvantaged (and under-represented) backgrounds (Norris and Francis, 2014; Association of Colleges, 2022). We offer A levels but most of our programmes are level 3 vocational qualifications such as BTEC Diplomas in a wide range of subjects which students from WP backgrounds are often more comfortable taking.  We hold sessions with each group describing how to complete the UCAS application process and how to write personal statements. We suggest a broad template for writing the statement but we do this by each course because the statements for an A level student are very different to those produced by art, music or sport students. Many students find the statements difficult to write so we advise them to email their drafts to us and we give feedback.  Every year I give feedback on over 200 students statements.  It is easy to identify those students who have been given ‘help’ in writing their statements by their parents, sibling or relatives.  They tend to be written very well and comprehensively.  In fact, some of these generally middle-class students indicate in their emails to me that it has been checked by their parents and relatives and just ask me to give final feedback which I duly do. Other students from less well-off backgrounds who are frequently the first in their family to apply to HE, often produce poorer statements and sometimes I give them feedback five or six times but reach a point when to continue would be to almost write the statement for them. Regrettably, those students from backgrounds which are underrepresented in HE are unable to receive the same support to write these statements and thus I suggest in future when school and college references are no longer needed they will be at an even greater disadvantage than now. Up until now we have been able to compensate for points they have missed in their statements by highlighting them in the reference. Vocational students often focus too much on the practical aspects of their course and neglect the academic features of their courses which their tutors pick up in the reference.
UCAS are currently ‘consulting’ on changes to the personal statements and suggesting that in future students will be given a six-stage standard question template to complete.  This template will be very useful for A level students but they may prove a hindrance to vocational students and particularly those studying art, performing arts and music students who need to produce a very different style of statement.

I suggest that these changes may be beneficial to A level students but not to vocational students and those from disadvantaged backgrounds.


Association of Colleges, 2022. College Key Facts. 2022/23, https://d4hfzltwt4wv7.cloudfront.net/uploads/files/AoC-College-Key-Facts...
Norris, E., and B. Francis. 2014. ‘The impact of financial and cultural capital on FE students’ education and employment progression’, in A. Mann, J. Stanley, and L. Archer, (eds), Understanding Employer Engagement in Education: Theories and Evidence. London: Routledge, 127-139.
UCAS, 2023, https://www.ucas.com/advisers/writing-references/changes-undergraduate-r...


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