'Our aim is to promote and provide the opportunity of successful participation in higher education to everyone who can benefit from it. This is vital for social justice and economic competitiveness. Widening participation addresses the large discrepancies in the take-up of higher education opportunities between different social groups.
'Under-representation is closely connected with broader issues of equity and social inclusion, so we are concerned with ensuring equality of opportunity for disabled students, mature students, women and men, and all ethnic groups.'
HEFCE national scholarship programme
Widening access and improving participation in post-compulsory education is high on the agenda of both the UK government and education funding councils, encouraged by the recommendations from the 1997 Dearing Report (National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education) and subsequent policy developments such as the 14-19 reform agenda.
Raising educational attainment, raising aspirations, encouraging application to HE and fair access to HE are seen as key elements to improving participation.
The HEFCE Student Lifecycle Model (2001) suggests key transition points in the learner’s journey which are essential to the success of widening participation, from raising aspirations, through better preparation, to first steps in HE, to moving through, onto student success. Outcomes of various Jisc projects suggest that the development of an e-portfolio culture will support planning, goal-setting learning and professional development and enable the recording and evidencing of attainment for presentation either for transition within the education sector (for example from FE to HE) or to employment or further training.
The Learning Matrix
'Through a ‘Higher Education Taster’ service, the Learning Matrix project aimed to provide ‘non-traditional’ learners with a better understanding of educational progression options and practical experience of learning at levels beyond their current level. This was tested by offering a cohort of learners a choice of learning packages at six FE and HE institutions in the Cheshire and Merseyside region.
'All learners undertook PDP activities and enrolled on courses using an online learner portal. Although e-portfolio facilities were not fully embedded in the project, it provided a model to build on for regional lifelong learning initiatives and improving progression to further and higher education which has been explored in the Interoperability Network North West (ioNW2) project.'
Learning Matrix case study
The 2004 DfES Review of Fair Admissions to HE included a definition of ‘fair admissions’, drawing upon e-portfolios for richer applicant information to aid widening participation and ease transition. UCAS is now committed to moving towards entirely web-based admissions and review processes, offering enormous benefits in terms of speed, data accuracy and future developments in response to changing demands.
In partnership with UCAS, Jisc has supported a number of projects to explore how technology can be used to support improved admissions practices. DELIA and PortisHEad are two such projects. Project activity included the piloting of applicants’ use of e-portfolios to support the preparation and submission of their anticipation and the use of structured entry profiles.