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The vocational/academic divide in widening participation: The Higher Education decision-making of Further Education students

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Publication details

JournalJournal of Further and Higher Education
DateAccepted/In press - 20 Mar 2019
DatePublished (current) - 30 Apr 2019
Issue number6
Number of pages780
Pages (from-to)766
Original languageEnglish


Despite the shift from an elite to a mass higher education (HE) system in the
UK, participation between students with Business Technology Education
Council (BTEC) and Advanced-Level (A-level) qualifications remains unequal.
The data presented here is taken from a longitudinal narrative inquiry
funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). The study
aimed to understand the reasons, influences, experiences and enabling and
constraining factors that informed further education (FE) students’ HE
decision making and choices. Qualitative data was gathered using
a combination of interviews, focus groups, paper and audio diaries with
13 FE students in England over an 18-month period, studying on either
BTEC Level 3 or A-Level courses. Inequalities between the HE decisions and
choices of BTEC and A-Level students emerged early on in their decision-
making journeys. A-Level students had the advantage of being targeted
and involved in national and local outreach initiatives, which allowed them
to bypass financial constraints, and were provided with crucial opportunities to establish a sense of ‘place’ in higher education institutions (HEIs) as
a result. The same financial constraints served to limit BTEC students’
choices, and restricted their opportunities to establish the same sense of
‘place’. Implications for policy as well as outreach and widening participation (WP) practices to work towards redressing these inequalities are pro-
posed and discussed.

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