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WP2PG - Panel Debate

Please submit questions for the Panel at Widening Participation to Postgraduate Education: Access after the White Paper

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John Rose-Adams
6 January 2012

At Widening Participation to Postgraduate Education: Access after the White Paper, a Panel of experts fielded questions from the delegation.  

The Panel was Chaired by Dr Paul Wakeling (University of York) and included:

Dean and Director of Studies, Faculty of Education and Language Studies, Open University

Dr Sharon Ding

Dean and Director of Studies, Faculty of Education and Language Studies, Open University

Sharon took her first degree (BA Psychology) and her PhD (awarded in 1996), from the University of Nottingham. She took up a post as Staff Tutor in Education in the Open University in the South in 1998, and then as Associate Dean (Course Presentation), Faculty of Education and Language Studies form 2002-2005.  In 2005 she moved portfolio to that of Curriculum Development, and in 2006 she also took on the role of Director of the Psychology Programme at the Open University.  These roles continued until she was appointed as Dean of the Faculty of Education and Language Studies from August, 2007.  The Faculty has programmes of study in Education, Languages and Childhood Studies and teaches over 25,000 students each year.Ms Sarah HowlsHead of Widening Participation, Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE)As Head of Widening Participation at HEFCE, Sarah oversees the Council's work across the broad range of Widening Participation policy development and implementation including WP strategic assessments; the Aimhigher programme; HEFCE's policy as it relates to disabled students; science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) demand raising activity; supporting student success; Widening Participation research and evaluation and so on.

Dr Penelope Griffin

Policy Lead, Bridge Group and Head of Widening Participation at the University of Nottingham.

Penelope has ten years' experience in policy development, change implementation and program management in relation to widening participation, admissions, and fees and funding. This includes a secondment as Professional Consultant to the Admissions to Higher Education Review (2003-2004), chaired by Professor Steven Schwartz. Penelope has led the Russell Group Association for Widening Participation on a number of initiatives, the most recent being the inaugural joint teachers' conference in May 2009.

Debbie McVitty

Research and Policy Officer (Postgraduates), National Union of Students

Debbie joined NUS in 2009 to provide research and policy support to the newly-created postgraduate campaign. She was formerly a training co-ordinator for an academic division at Oxford University, a role that involved delivery of transferable and academic skills training. She was awarded her DPhil in eighteenth-century literature in 2008. In her current role she supports students' unions in campaigning on aspects of the postgraduate student experience, such as finance, employability and assessment and feedback.

Ms Sarah Howls

Head of Widening Participation, Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE)

As Head of Widening Participation at HEFCE, Sarah oversees the Council's work across the broad range of Widening Participation policy development and implementation including WP strategic assessments; the Aimhigher programme; HEFCE's policy as it relates to disabled students; science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) demand raising activity; supporting student success; Widening Participation research and evaluation and so on.

Extra content

Questions received for the Panel

-          Is there a role for elitism in postgraduate education? Should postgraduate education be elitist?

-          What impact will increased tuition fees have on postgraduate participation?

-          What should institutions be doing to widen access to postgraduate study?

-          What should government(s) be doing to widen access to postgraduate study?

-          What motivates people to become postgraduates?

-          What will be the best kinds of programme/delivery for widening postgraduate access? Part-time, distance, professional etc.

-          Should postgraduate funding be devolved?

-          What can we learn/transpose from widening participation and access initiatives at undergraduate level?

-          Should postgraduate funding be concentrated?

-          What should be the priority/ies for future research on access to postgraduate study?

-          Should we be concerned with access or retention?

John Rose-Adams
14:47 on 9 January 2012 (Edited 10:43 on 6 February 2012)

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John Rose-Adams
1:23pm 13 February 2012


From Felicity Fletcher-Campbell: 

a) Is there a common set of indicators for effective Widening Participation at postgraduate level?

b) Do these need to be supplemented by specific indicators according to different vocational populations?

John Rose-Adams
1:26pm 13 February 2012


From Paul Jarman:

I don't know whether this is ann appropriate discussion point for Thursday, but I have one thing which I would very much like to raise, primarily because I think it has gone totally unnoticed hitherto.  And the reason for that is quite simple: there are scarcely any visually-impaired Ph.D students.  I stress that when I use the term visually impaired here, I don't mean individuals who, through the use of some kind of magnification, can read print.  I mean purely those who, like myself, have no sight or insufficient ever to access printed material.  I am fairly sure that, when I obtained my own Ph.D in January 2010, I became the first totally blind individual ever in the UK - and possibly far beyond - to obtain a doctorate in English Literature.  Looking at developments in post-grad education over the last few years however - and I openly admit that I am primarily talking about in the Humanities here - it seems to me that all HEIs have dramatically increased the pressure upon research students to complete theses within a three-year period, or thereabouts.  To what extent this is due to external pressure from government, I can't say, but what I do know is that absolutely no thought whatsoever has been given to students who cannot access printed material.  I firmly believe - and this is derived both from personal experience and from other students whom I have met - that, while not being able to access print is a barrier at under-graduate level, the issue is multiplied tenfold when it comes to being a research student and - let's face it - essentially working alone.  I actually think that this is one of the primary reasons why visually-impaired students don't tackle post-grad research.  The sheer amount of organisation required to even gather one's material to use is just beyond anything that any sighted person can ever imagine.  I unquestionably used up more hours in the organisation and co-ordination of my readers than I ever actually did on the thesis itself.  I admit that I chose a rather astonishing subject for one in my situation, as it primarily involved researching eighteenth-century hand-written manuscripts, but why should a visually-impaired individual be restricted by subject area.  It is very apparent to me that the more universities put pressure upon students to complete theses within a given period, the less encouragement there will be for totally blind individuals to even bother starting a research degree.  I can honestly say that if any blind individual came to me now to ask for advice on whether they should or should not bother attempting a research degree in the Humanities, I would be strongly tempted to advise them against it, unless they really were prepared to give up the next six or so years of their life to little else.  I think that this is an issue that needs tackling nationally, and not on a college by college basis.  Somehow we need to create a real culture of understanding at the highest levels of how difficult it is to tackle research in what is still a print-dominated world, and, what's more, a world where digitisation is actually adding to the problem faster than even the printed book ever did.

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