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Access to HE has a bright future after 25 years of achievement

Val Yates, Director of Access and Inclusion at the University of Worcester, raises the curtain on an annual access and continuing education event, now in its 25th year, taking place at her institution this week.

 

The future's so bright, you gotta wear shades!  As the University of Worcester poises ready to host the 25th Annual Forum for Access and Continuing Education conference this week, its programme packed with the hot topics facing those of us involved in access, inclusion and lifelong learning, I have been thinking about what have been the enduring impacts of the past quarter century of widening participation programmes?

This year’s conference is themed around Praxis, the collaborative realm where evidence meets practice and true transformation happens. Inspirational outreach programmes, learner and practitioner led research and not to forget reflections on the challenges of a truly inclusive education system all feature in the programme.

Those sharing their perspectives will be doing so at the cusp of a new era for higher education; a new policy landscape, a flurry of negative rhetoric about the ‘value’ and ‘quality’ of higher education, and pressure to homogenise the outputs of UK universities. But this conference will be an opportunity to share the truly transformative stories of learners, to understand better those communities that despite 25 years’ worth of work are still underrepresented in our HE system.

What the past 25 years of WP work has achieved is to firmly embed the importance of social inclusion in our universities, to raise awareness of the inequalities in access and participation and firmly place fair and transparent access at the forefront of government policy.  As for the future – well now is the time to really make it happen, to move us on from short term interventions, even the successful ones, to get down to the bare bones of why participation in higher education for some remains elusive.

We must understand not just the barriers to participation, but really understand those communities and the individuals within them, we must listen to their stories, understand their passions, motivations and experience, only then can we truly transform access and inclusion to make universities a place for all.

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