A summary of the University of Reading’s widening participation strategy recently dropped into my email box.
I think it is interesting to compare the approach taken by Reading to the one that is planned by the new Centre for Inclusion and Curriculum (CIC) at the Open University.
I thought that both the similarities and the differences between what we (in CIC) hope to do are really interesting.
First the similarities. These are most clear in the first part of Reading University’s summary:
We believe that everyone who has the potential to benefit from higher education should have the chance to do so. Easier access to learning results in a more varied university community, which ultimately brings cultural, social and economic advantage to everyone.
We play a leading role in many local, regional and national initiatives that are designed to put higher education within reach of a wider audience. This challenge involves us in:
- making more people aware of the study opportunities open to them
- encouraging the academic aspirations of individuals from all social, educational and ethnic backgrounds
- overcoming negative pre-conceptions and potential barriers to participation
- providing more flexible pathways to progress studies and more innovative ways to study, such as distance and online learning.
- ensuring transparent and fair admission to the University and consistent and reliable assessment of studies.
The first paragraph of the extract is, I think, very similar to the values that underpin our fledgling unit. We too think that as many people as possible should be able to benefit from participating in higher education.
I think we in CIC could also identify with many aspects of the challenge that are listed above. And it’s also true to say that we have been and will continue to be involved in local regional and national initiatives to ‘put higher education within reach of a wider audience.’
The University of Reading widening participation strategy continues:
To attract the broadest cross-section of talented and motivated students to the University, our dedicated Widening Participation Office co-ordinates an extensive outreach programme.
- leadership of the Berkshire Aim Higher programme: this partnership of education providers promotes access to higher education;
- summer schools that give young people – particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds – the opportunity to experience student life
- mentoring schemes to help potential university students understand the value of higher education
- organised visits, events and talks both at the University campus and at local schools and colleges
- special projects promoting science education, such as National Science Week and The Annual Schools Science Lectures.
However, the biggest difference is shown by this second extract. Reading University puts the emphasis on a range of activities, such as summer school, special projects and campus visits which aim to make personal contact with potential students and might encourage them to apply to study at Reading. In contrast, CIC intends to focus on the role of the curriculum in widening participation. This builds on the success of both Openings programme and of the Open degree programme. The impact of curricula that are appropriately developed and supported will also form the focus of research an scholarship – an aspect not mentioned at all by Reading. These differences highlight the distinctiveness of the approach to widening participation the new Centre for Inclusion and Curriculum plans to adopt.