Access to HE: A powerful vehicle for social change

22 March 2022

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On 31 January 2022, the Quality Assurance Agency as regulators for Access to HE diplomas issued the national data for Access to HE based on academic year 2019-20. This covers the 40,550 fantastic access learners who registered to diplomas in that academic year. These students, many of which are considered ‘mature students’, were negotiating lockdowns, homeschooling, and the general challenges of a global pandemic. They were supported by the tireless and passionate endeavors of their tutors to achieve in admirable numbers and 96% of students who completed their studies achieved the full diploma.

This was during an academic year where students studying vocational and A-Level qualifications were still receiving Centre Assessed Grades to alleviate the great difficulties they and the colleges were facing. Access students, however, completed assessments for all credits required, with colleges exercising some powers under the Extraordinary Regulatory Framework introduced by QAA. The intention here was to ensure that these students received the opportunity to learn all that they needed to succeed at university, and they entered university in their droves. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, almost 25,000 Access students entered higher education in 2019.

Access to HE diplomas are levelling the playing field in higher education. In 2019, 23% of Access students entering higher education were from disadvantaged backgrounds, compared to only 10% of student who entered via other Level 3 qualifications. It is a similar story with ethnicity (29% for Access compared to 20% from other qualifications) and disability (24% for Access, 10% higher than other qualifications).


That is not the end of the story. Access students are more likely to continue into their second year of higher education than other mature students who do not hold this qualification. Perhaps most importantly of all, Access students are more likely to gain employment after graduation than mature students who did not come through the Access route.

Nursing is the big winner when it comes to Access to HE, with 35% of Access students entering nursing degrees compared with only 6% of other qualification holders. This is unsurprising as 53% of Access students are studying a diploma in the health sector. This is good news for the employment market as nursing and midwifery are some of the biggest areas of predicted growth over the next 5 years.

The biggest area of predicted growth in terms of employment for graduates is IT, closely followed by sales and marketing, and business and finance. Business is one of the high uptake areas for Access to HE students, meaning there are plenty of opportunities out there for current and prospective Access students.

Access to HE is a vital vehicle for social change and opportunity – it services the lifelong learning community like no other qualification in its mission to widen participation in Higher Education.

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