In January 2015, The Open University (OU) received a boost from HEFCE in the form of a grant to extend the work of the Social Partnerships Network. The grant comes under HEFCE’s National Networks for Collaborative Outreach (NNCO) scheme and covers funding for 2014/15 and 2015/16. The new £22 million scheme, involving over 200 higher education institutions and reaching 4,300 secondary schools and colleges, aims to encourage more people into higher education. Three of the networks, including the Social Partnerships Network, will offer advice and support to specific groups of students at a national level, thus supporting a diverse HE system which supports workplace and lifelong learning.
The aims of the project are to enhance the Social Partnerships Network through three specific strands of activity. These are:
- Development a project website: The project will build and maintain a website that will clearly outline alternative pathways to higher education. The main focus will be to serve adults looking for simplified advice and guidance on all the non-traditional routes to and through higher education and will include informal to formal journeys. The website will link the various network partners and give learners a sound understanding about what is on offer from each organisation and also be vocationally relevant and link to employment/career choices.
Development of a suite of free online courses: The OU NNCO plans to develop a suite of online courses which will be freely available on the existing OpenLearn Works platform. The courses will be catered towards particular individuals who are unemployed or in low-paid, unqualified jobs. These will aim to not only aid progression from informal to formal learning, but also offer the opportunity to enhance their career prospects and progression to further study. The learners will receive a ‘badge’ which demonstrates successful completion of the course. The courses will contain a mixture of reading, activities and quizzes, drawing from existing and new open educational resources (OER). There are six proposed courses:
- Supporting Childhood Development – for Teaching Assistants, other unqualified staff in schools/children’s centres and parents;
- Social Care – with a focus on residential, community and family carers;
- Healthcare Assistants and the wider unqualified essential health team;
- Planning your career;
- Working in the voluntary sector;
- A course for those wishing to establish and sustain a small-medium enterprise
- Research and Evaluation: The final strand of the NNCO project relates to tracking, monitoring and evaluation of learners’ use of the NNCO resources. Research and evaluation activity will be embedded throughout all activity driven by the SPN network, and systems will be created to explore impact and outcomes.