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The Access to HE Diploma is a Qualification for All Types of Learners

2018 is the year of the first World Access to Higher Education Day - “…a platform to raise global awareness around inequalities in access and success in HE, and act as a catalyst for international, regional and local action.” Open Awards’ Access to HE Manager, Katherine Wales addresses the ongoing issues regarding the lack of parity in entry requirements for Access to HE Diplomas and how Open Awards plan to challenge them.

‘It is always amazing to see thousands of adults who come to the conclusion that they are ready to pursue their goal, weigh up the obstacles that they will face, and commit to the challenge of an Access to HE Diploma. They sign up at their local Access provider and make arrangements to balance their existing commitments, often a reduction in income and a gruelling schedule of study and assignments.
The Access to HE Diploma is an academic qualification designed to prepare learners with the academic knowledge and study skills required to enter university.  It typically takes a year to complete and is comparable to 3 A-levels which gives you an idea of just how intense but rewarding it is. Year on year I receive reports from HEIs on the outstanding commitment to study displayed consistently by Access to HE learners and the amazing level of study skills that Access learners hold in comparison to A-level or BTEC learners.
Access to HE providers have devised inventive and successful ways of ensuring that the Access to HE Diploma is available to all who wish to study on it. In addition to the Advanced Learning Loan which can be used to fund the Access to HE Diploma, learners can study on a variety of delivery modes including the increasingly-popular blended learning format. Access providers are aware that the course needs to fit in with learners’ lives and circumstances so schedule sessions and assignments to be as flexible as possible.
I’m enormously proud each year to talk to learners and hear how they have overcome the odds to achieve their goals. We hear from ex-forces learners who had struggled to re-acclimatise to civilian life before starting their Access course and by the end have not only achieved their qualification but have found a way to adjust to a new way of life. We hear about offenders who have benefitted from the structure and breadth of the Access Diploma and have managed to change their lives through hard work and dedication and are now starting new lives in a career they never thought was an option for them before.  Let’s not forget the parents who want a better life for their children and balance the duties of parenthood with the demands of the course against difficulties ranging from financial issues, family challenges and illness to mental health issues.
The obstacles faced by learners aren’t just limited to personal circumstances though. Over the years members of the Access to HE community have fought and succeeded in gaining recognition for the Diploma as a valuable academic qualification comparable to a-levels and worthy of its claim to produce HE-ready learners.  I am pleased to say that most universities accept Access to HE learners every year and work with us to ensure the continued success and development of the Diploma. However, there are still some gaps in the understanding of the qualification and its value and we often see that entry requirements set by universities obstruct entry to Access to HE learners. These cases range from direct refusal to Access to HE learners to more subtle restrictions such as extremely high grade requirements compared to those set for A-levels. A college recently alerted me to a case where the entry requirements for a course have been set for 126 UCAS points except for Access learners who must have 45 credits at distinction which relates to 144 UCAS points. Learners and Access providers are understandably frustrated by these cases but work continues by Access Validating Agencies (AVAs) to ensure that HEIs are fully educated on the structure, purpose and benefit of the Access Qualification.
At Open Awards, we’re doing all that we can to ensure that the Access to HE Diploma is a qualification that is fit for purpose and is accessible to all types of learners. We continue to work with HEIs, Access providers and learners to find out what we can do to make it the very best it can be.  We’re very excited to be working on blended learning materials for some of our Access to HE units in partnership with ESFA on DFE’s Flexible Learning Fund and have lots of other projects scheduled to help with the widening participation agenda.’

For more information about Open Awards’ Access to HE Diplomas please get in touch with Katherine Wales on ahed@openawards.org.uk

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