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interview data was collected from students at the University of Westminster who had entered via non A-level routes, and with graduates from similar cohorts. For the college students, the opportunity


to progress to university was, in the words of one student, about wanting to give ‘something back to the society and just be a positive role model’. The potential for personal development was very important to these students: ‘I am going to university to be empowered’. These aspirations were also linked to skills development, often in preparation for a specific career, but there was also a deeper sense of wanting to develop a citizenship-style experience through prog- ressing to university.


More information Generally, the students were keen to receive more information about university life and to hear directly from university staff: ‘Come and talk to us, sell yourselves!’ Applying to university was generally perceived as confusing. The guidance staff found relatively low levels of knowledge about university among further education students. They also identified relatively weak forward planning, with students often seen as being reactive rather than proactive in seeking out advice. Improved role models were highlighted as something that would be an asset in improving vocational student aspirations. This is particularly important in view of the fact that non A-level students often view themselves in a negative way, according to the guidance practitioners: ‘They’re already under the feeling that they are second class … in fact some of them feel that they can’t go on to university’. For those students who had made the


transition to higher education, studying at university was initially experienced as a culture shock. Interviewees described university life as ‘demanding’ and ‘intense’. Learning styles were experienced as quite different from further education, with independent learning being seen as particularly challenging: ‘It is the transition from being spoon-fed to having to do your own research and self-motivate’. Assessment was raised as particularly signif- icant, with non A-level entrants being less familiar with essays, for example. Small seminar work was seen as more attractive than large lectures, and the respondents felt that there was much less contact with teaching staff at university. When asked about their sense of identity


as learners, the interviewees echoed the comments of the careers staff by demarcat- ing themselves from traditional university entrants: ‘It is so difficult when you come from a route that is not A-levels because they know what they are doing’. Another student commented: ‘You can tell they did A-levels because they seem brighter, they seem more into the game’. These comments show just how far vocational learners have travelled


by the time they successfully graduate from higher education into the labour market or onto postgraduate study. The majority of higher education students


we interviewed said that they were aware of the information, advice and guidance services offered at university. Interestingly, however, they did not tend to see themselves as potential users of such support. In fact, vocational entrants often identified themselves as being students who needed to ‘work hard’ and ‘be committed’ by relying on their personal resources rather than making use of support services. For the graduates, there was a general


feeling that following the further to higher education route had prepared them well for the labour market. For some, the course had been linked to a specific professional development route, while, for others, higher education had opened up a number of new potential career directions. Interviewees referred to gaining confidence and gaining an advantage in the job market. One graduate even remarked that going to university was ‘the best thing I have ever done with my life and I would do it again’.


Learner progression FE to HE Transitions shows that formal education at Level 4 and above can play a key role in supporting vocational learner progression, skills development, and career planning. Studying at university can enable students from a wide variety of backgrounds to make informed and reflective choices about their future. However, it should be recognised that the transition to higher education is not always a straightforward process, particularly in relation to adjusting to new forms of academic practice. It also needs to be noted that the journey out of higher education is equally significant to genuine lifelong learning provision, and this is an area for future exploration. The testimony from learners contained


in this research reaffirms the notion that education, and, in particular, the progression from Level 3 to 4, can transform lives. The research also shows that successful educational progression is not just about supplying economic and workforce develop- ment. Learner progression is also intertwined with experiences of personal development and is closely related to ideas of citizenship. It is crucial that this facet of vocational learner progression is not lost as higher education undergoes fundamental change over the next few years.


Wayne Clark is Senior Manager for Research and Development at the Career Development Centre, University of Westminster. The FE to HE Transitions project was funded by Linking London Lifelong Learning Network. The full report and case studies can be found at: www.westminster.ac.uk/fe2he and www. linkinglondon.ac.uk.


Case studies


Degree: BSc Business and Finance


FE course: Access in Business and Finance


After coming to the UK from Uganda, Joan enrolled on an Access to HE course in business and finance at college. She soon realised that she wanted to continue her studies at university and, having spoken to her lecturers and tutors at college, she applied through UCAS and started her degree in 2005. Joan told us that she felt ‘well prepared’ for university having been in college for a year, and she found the shift to higher education to be a ‘nice transition’. The timetable at university was flexible enough for Joan to arrange her childcare around her course. She had to make some important choices along the way about which modules to study and actually changed her degree before the second year. She found the second year the most challenging but she felt well supported by her lecturers. And, as she put it herself, ‘I dealt with the challenges as I went along’. Joan is now studying full-time for a Master’s degree.


Degree: BSc Building Control Surveying


FE course: BTEC & HNC


Frank studied at a further education college and then at university as part of his continuing professional development. His job as a surveyor meant that he was able to undertake BTEC and HNC courses at college alongside his full-time job. While at college, he considered doing a degree but it was a few years later, following advice from college staff, that he decided to re-enter the world of education and enrolled on a part-time day release degree at university in 2004. He graduated in 2007. Looking back on his degree, Frank recalled the difficulties and challenges of working and studying at the same time. However, as he put it: ‘It was quite difficult working and doing a degree but at the same time I found it to be the best thing I have ever done’. He went on to say that his courses have ‘helped an awful lot in the job’ and he highlighted in particular the confidence that he has gained from his educational career across both further and higher education. Frank works as a surveyor for a local authority.


JANUARY 2011 ADULTS LEARNING 21


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