Access ladder is short of rungs

March 24, 2000

I agree with much of Alison Goddard's article "Swapping the ghetto for the gown" (THES, March 17). I am a "male success" story of the access system. I joined a one-year full-time course at Abingdon FE College, which, if successful, guaranteed an offer (not course-specific) from Oxford Brookes University. Subjects on offer included business and economics, as well as science-based courses. These were in addition to the usual access course humanities focus.

I was raised by a single parent, with only O-level qualifications earned 12 years previously. For me, as a mature married student of 28, it was vital that if I was going to pursue my dream of a university degree, it needed to be vocationally focused. It is probably the humanities focus of so many access courses that reduces the interest for mature males who often have family responsibilities. Gambling away even four years of a typical blue-collar income to get a qualification that is likely to lead to a poorly paid teaching job at best is not something most men in that position are likely to do. Also, I later discovered that it may have been possible for me to join the foundation course at Oxford Brookes, as opposed to the access course. In this case I would have received a full grant for four years instead of three. As much as I appreciated the college's access fund, which offered grants of about Pounds 200 a term, the difference was about Pounds 3,400 more. The access year can best be described as financially punishing.

I cannot praise enough the support I received from people at the further and higher education institutions I attended. I earned a 2:1 degree in law from Oxford Brookes, went on to teaching and research there, and I am now the industrial liaison officer at the University of Bradford and on the university's MBA programme.

Access does work, but it could work for so many more people with better information, more job-focused courses and reduced barriers.

Martin Waddell

Industrial liaison officer, University of Bradford

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