JW: QAA Spokesperson
BB: Betsy Bowerman, Mature and part-time student advisor
JW: So I am here with Betsy Bowerman and Betsy is the Mature and part-time students' advisor at the University of Bristol, and Betsy, the University of Bristol is part of the Western Access Progression Agreement Group and your Group has been commended in the HE Provider of the Year Category, in the Access Awards.
BB: That's right.
JW: So congratulations.
BB: Thank you.
JW: How does it feel to have been commended in that Category?
BB: Well we were really excited because we put in, as a group of four, we though oh, maybe we won't be considered, but we felt that the work that we have done over the past eight years was so significant in terms of improving communication, and with and progression opportunities for Access students, that we wanted to apply for an award; so we were really thrilled to win a commendation.
JW: And University of Bristol where you work, is one of the members of the Group, who are the other three members?
BB: It is Bath Spa University, University of the West of England, and Bath University.
JW: And it is quite an unusual route to work together as a consortium of universities to support Access and widening participation; how did that come about?
BB: Well it came about as a project, started in 2005, through the Western Vocational Lifelong Learning Network, and here is where I have to pay tribute to Chris Crowdays who was at University of West of England, and has since retired, because he was the driving force that got it started. We really felt that, or he felt that there was so much variety in how Access students were being treated and the opportunities opened for them, that he applied for funding for this project to look at it, and over a period of years - in the way that they were looking at vocational qualifications like BTECs and setting up progression agreements, well let's do this for Access because it really needs clarification about progression opportunities. So the steering group was set up which we were all members of, along with other members from FE, from other Universities, and so on, and after it finished, we said, this has been so good, so we set up progression agreements, they were agreed to, it seemed to have come to an end, but we felt it was so good, and the opportunity to work with other HEI's around Access specifically had been so fruitful in the discussions we had had, the work we had done together, that we wanted to keep it going. So since the project finished, as a group we have continued to meet three times a year. Now that the Life Long Learning Networks have finished our local AVA Apt Awards has taken on the management of the group, but as a Group working together we decided we needed to continue to do that. So that is how it started. We didn't need to continue it, but we felt it was really important. And it has made some of the regional planning we do so much easier; we do an annual conference, well we do two annual conferences, for Local Access students; although this past year we opened it up to people from outside the region as well, in January to keep them going, and to give them further information on making the transition to Higher Education and it makes the planning of those sorts of events, but also the discussion of issues around access, it facilitates that sort of discussion.
JW: Is an Access student an attractive proposition for a University, and if so, what does the Access student bring with them, that perhaps a school leavers student might not?
BB: It is an attractive proposition and I find it really interesting that increasingly admissions tutors are saying for mature students, for example, that our thinking about coming to university, go do an Access Course, because it prepares them so well. Gets them up to speed really, for Higher Education, so the Access course has filled the gap for many students who, for whatever reason don't have the academic qualifications they need to progress to Higher Education, and Access students have got the study skills. I looked at some work we have done on dropout rates which is slightly higher for mature students at Bristol, but it is not the mature students who have come the Access route it is mature students who haven't had the opportunity to get themselves ready for higher education in the way that Access Students have, who tend to drop out at a higher rate. So it really prepares students well for the experience they are going to have in higher education.
JW: So if there are people out there who don't have any formal qualifications, and are thinking, 'Gosh, I could never get to university', what would your top tips be for them to be thinking about doing an Access Route?
BB: Well I would say, think about what you might want to do long term. I know that feel before you have even got back into Education, maybe a bit soon, but that will help you decide which pathway to go down when it comes to Access. So have a think about that. You don't have to have absolutely decided, but it does help to have a think and do maybe a little research, into what is there in higher education, because I think sometimes adults particularly have kind of fixed ideas and they don't realise there are lots of things out there, they could do in higher education. So do a bit of research. Have a think about what you might want to do, and then contact your local FE College or other provider of Access and they will talk you through possibilities of what Access course will best match what you want to do in the future. But don't hesitate I would say as well, don't hesitate about dipping your toe in the water, sometimes there are short courses, for pre-Access type courses you could try as well to see if that is what you really want to do, and it is going to suit you.
JW: Thanks very much Betsy.