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The overwhelming majority of learners studying Access to HE Diplomas are aged 21 and over – defined as “mature learners”. So the decision to focus on the worrying decline in mature learners in higher education was highly topical.

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These are the key messages.

  • People are living longer and may have multiple careers. The job for life is no longer feasible. So making it easier for people to return to learning is critical. “This means that we all have to look at education in a very different light” (Mark Malcomson CBE, Chair of the OCN London board).
  • The numbers of mature part-time and full-time learners in higher education has declined by 61 per cent since 2010, according to recent research from the Office of Fair Access (OFFA). This amounts to a drop of 45,000 in student numbers. This needs to be addressed, but there are concerns that the focus in government is on younger students. (Professor Les Ebdon CBE, Director of  Fair Access to Education – OFFA).
  • Although HE institutions have made positive progress overall in meeting targets, the least progress was made with part-time and mature learners, both in access and student success. “All institutions have a responsibility to consider how to support part-time and mature learners”. (Les Ebdon)
  • Solutions include bespoke information, advice and guidance (IAG) for mature learners, flexible provision, online courses, free taster courses, a wider choice of campuses, better outreach work and student shadowing opportunities. “I want to see  community-wide good practice - a hub of activity. We need to be more ambitious and confident in supporting adult learners”. (Les Ebdon)
  • There should be a strong campaigning element to those involved in Access to HE provision. We need to push the argument that older learners matter – to the economy and social mobility. (Peter Mayhew-Smith, Group Principal and CEO of the South Thames College Group)
  • There is an urgent need to provide the right skills needs for our country and examine whether our delivery methods are fit for purpose. “We must challenge practice and support improvements, based on feedback from learners “. (Peter Mayhew-Smith)

Michael Sargent Bursary Award Winners

Joseph Butler
Winner:  Outstanding academic achievement

Gained an Access to HE Diploma in Humanities and Social Science at the City Lit.
Now studying for a degree in International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

After a gap of eight years, Joe returned to learning to study for an Access to HE Diploma in Humanities and Social Science. From the beginning of the course he demonstrated his ability to articulate syntheses of complex arguments, producing outstanding written work  in each of the three main subject areas. He was able to handle statistical analysis, give perceptive definitions, produce clear arguments and  think independently.  Joe achieved distinctions in all 45 graded credits on the Access to HE Diploma. His tutors say: “Joe is focused, fluent and concise, with excellent structure running through his work. He thinks deeply and explores subjects carefully before coming to any conclusions. He has applied his intellectual ability and his skills of academic research and writing to produce some of the best work we have seen on our Access course in many years.”

Kimberley Shoard
Winner: Outstanding commitment to study

Gained an Access to HE Diploma in Teacher Training at Kingston College.
Now studying Primary Teaching at St Mary’s University, Twickenham.

Starting her course at Kingston college as a student with autism and a slow processing speed, Kim had a strong resolve to succeed in her studies. She coped with her additional needs by using highly effective methods of research, note making and planning through the use of colour coding and visual markers, spending a large amount of time working on her assignments. Her classmates were also understanding, allowing her additional processing time when delivering presentations. Kim achieved 42 Distinctions in her graded work and was the first person this year to gain a Distinction in English. Her tutors say: "When Kim started the course she had never successfully written an essay before ... A major triumph has been her determination to push the boundaries of her communication skills. She is already better placed than many teachers to understand the importance of an inclusive educational environment and a positive mindset towards diverse needs."

Stephen Hanson
Runner up: Outstanding academic achievement

Gained an Access to HE Diploma in Science at Morley College.
Now studying  Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Surrey University. 

Stephen returned to education after a career with Transport for London where he had worked for many years. With no A levels or equivalent this was his first level 3 qualification. His tutors said: “Throughout the year Stephen proved to be an outstanding student in all aspects, showing full commitment to his studies.”      His approach to his project on Properties of Matter showed his ability to work autonomously, identifying problems and solving them without the need for support.  Stephen’s strong work ethic and excellent attention to detail was rewarded with his achievement of a 100 per cent distinction grade profile

Barry Kaiza
Runner up: Outstanding commitment to study

Gained an Access to HE Diploma in Computing at City of Westminster College. 
Now studying Networking and Cyber Security at London Met University. 

Since coming to the UK in 2013 as a refugee from Uganda Barry has struggled to support himself.  Being unemployed and homeless (he stays in a Salvation Army hostel)  has made it doubly hard for him to study. Despite not having a computer – a bit of problem since he was studying computing – Barry has been able to complete the course with the help of the college and friends who gave him access to PCs. His tutors say:  “He has been able to overcome all this through sheer determination, commitment to his education and support from his friends. Barry is a very good student and worked extremely hard on the activities we set him, demonstrating resourcefulness and an ability to effectively and efficiently problem solve in various contexts .”