Who You Are Matters: How Backgrounds of Widening Access Practitioners Shapes Practice

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 08:42
Oral Presentation
Jon RAINFORD, Staffordshire University, United Kingdom
Since the increase in university tuition fees in England and Wales in 2012, all universities are required to spend a proportion of their fee income on measures to widen access and success. How this is done is delegated to each individual university. The majority, however, spend a large proportion on activities that come under the banner of widening participation or outreach (OFFA 2016). These are delivered often by specialist teams in each individual university. Whilst on paper, the work reflects institutional policies focusing on ‘raising aspirations’ and targeting students with potential, the enactment of policy and its interpretation by practitioners is often widely varied.

Previous research has focused mainly on policy at national (e.g McCaig 2015) and institutional levels (e.g Stevenson, Clegg and Lefever 2010). This paper will explore some of the emerging findings from a study into how work done to widen participation is shaped by those delivering these interventions. Drawing on data from sixteen semi-structured interviews in four institutions spread across England, I will argue that the approach to practice in each institution is not only shaped by institutional factors but by conceptions and understandings of success which originate in the life histories of these practitioners.

This paper will explore how the social, educational and employment backgrounds of individual practitioners can impact upon the way they interpret and enact policy. I will argue that no matter whether practitioners in my study work within selective or mass institutions of higher education, that their understandings of aspiration are shaped by their own experiences and educational trajectories. This can be seen through my data to often sit at odds with institutional visions and therefore create space for tensions within widening participation practice. The implications of this both for the young people involved in these interventions and the institutions will be discussed.