Playing field resistant to levelling 4

March 7, 2003

The access debate assumes that virtually all higher-education learners are studying full time from age 18 to 21 on three-year honours degrees. What about lifelong learners? You have to use a magnifying glass to find reference to them in the white paper.

There are just two paragraphs in 90 pages on the importance of lifelong learning and the government's acknowledgement of universities'

role in the wider community. There is though the welcome announcement of (modest) grants for part-time students and the recognition that part-time students on low incomes will be eligible for a range of support funds.

But even in terms of access and widening participation, the paper implicitly adopts a "Laura Spence" model as far as the elite institutions are concerned: that is, it is implied that as long as such universities search out a few stars from disadvantaged backgrounds, and take a good proportion of bright youngsters from state schools, then they do not need to change much, if anything, else.

This is hardly a transformative agenda for equity and universities' involvement with their communities.

Richard Taylor
Chair, National Institute of Adult Continuing Education

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