The traditional route into university for the majority of students is via ‘A’ levels, normally studied at school or college. Some take other qualifications, such as BTECs. An alternative is the Access to Higher Education Diploma – a qualification designed specifically for people who want to apply to university but don’t have the traditional qualifications.
Access to HE Diploma courses are all about offering students a second chance. Kingston College in south west London is one of the biggest providers of Access to HE Diplomas (accredited by OCN London) in London and the south east. Their courses are intensive, focused and academically rigorous. Tutors place particular emphasis on always hitting deadlines because this will be expected at university.
Pam Harrison, the Deputy Head of School (Head of Section for Adult, Community, Health & Social Care) explains their approach. “We want to give people the best possible chance to progress and succeed in higher education. So we make it clear to our students before they embark on one of our Access courses that it will be tough going but worth it. We’ve had students go on Cambridge, King’s College and Surrey universities. Many of them tell us it’s thanks to our emphasis on high achievement.”
An Access course is completed in half the time students take to do ‘A’ levels. It includes study skills so students learn the correct way to write essays and reference their work.
“This is a very good grounding for higher education and nearly all our students who complete the Access courses do go onto university. The courses prepare students better than ‘A’ levels as they learn how to study,” says Pam.
To ensure students understand what’s required, they all attend an induction day during which they are asked to bring work in for assessment, along with a draft of their personal statement for university application and a poster about themselves. This means students hit the ground running and can be in no doubt about the intense studying they need to commit to. But it can also highlight ‘red flags’ early on; which students may struggle and therefore need extra help..
Students also meet students who have just completed the course. “Nothing beats hearing from those who’ve just finished,” says Pam. “Those students are best placed to explain what’s involved and why it’s worth sticking with it. They tell them what to look out for, the pitfalls and why it’s so vital to learn how to manage their time well. That really helps as it gives them pointers to what they should be doing.”
Former students who have progressed to top universities, including many in the Russell group, say that after doing an Access course their first year at university was a lot less daunting than it might otherwise have been. “Other students are amazed at how well prepared they are and how much they already know, such as their knowledge of anatomy on the nursing courses.” says Pam.
She is also very complimentary about OCN London as their chosen Access Validation Agency. “The staff at OCN London are very supportive. I can ring or email any time. They come back with answers as soon as they can and as an organisation they are very clear with what they expect and want. We have a very happy relationship with them.”
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The Access to HE Diplomas at Kingston College cover the following subjects: art and design; business studies; computing; engineering; fashion; health and human sciences; humanities; media studies; midwifery; nursing; paramedic science; science and teacher training. Diplomas in digital and social media, health and social care, and sports science will also be offered from September 2017 .