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Under the terms of its licence from the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), an access validating agency (AVA)1 is required to assure the quality and fitness for purpose of the Access to HE courses to which it grants formal recognition through its processes of validation and monitoring. The criteria which specify an AVA’s responsibilities in this regard require the AVA to consider and confirm ‘arrangements and criteria for admission to the course, including pre-course guidance’.2 This guidance is intended to support AVAs in identifying appropriate ‘arrangements and criteria’, and to provide a reference point for providers and others by clarifying national expectations in this area.
While AVAs may expect that providers’ admissions procedures in relation to Access to HE courses will be broadly consistent with providers’ general policies and procedures for admissions, they also have a responsibility to consider whether any additional arrangements are necessary in order to reflect the particular requirements of Access to HE courses and the specific target groups identified by the provider.
Providers are responsible for ensuring that their admissions procedures, criteria and practices conform to relevant legislation and regulation (including that relating to equality and diversity, data protection and freedom of information). This guidance does not take precedence over any legal requirements. Providers should also be aware of any funding implications of their admissions decisions and ensure that applicants are advised fully and appropriately3.
The arrangements and criteria for the admission of students to Access to HE courses should reflect the primary aim of this provision to provide an appropriate preparation and recognised qualification for progression to HE. In particular, Access to HE courses are targeted at those who have the ability to benefit from a course of HE but who have not previously had the opportunity to do so. To be successful in reaching their target groups, Access to HE courses are designed, through their curriculum, their delivery methods and their course structures to meet the needs of those who may have few, if any, prior qualifications, or those whose educational progress has been limited by their particular social or educational circumstances.
There is no single type of suitable Access to HE applicant, and the intention of the admissions process should be to respond positively to the diversity of background and experience of applicants and to offer opportunities to all those who meet the criteria. While courses may be targeted at particular groups, especially the disadvantaged and those currently under-represented in HE, there should, in most cases, be no group or type of applicant that is explicitly excluded from admission to a course. Where any exceptions are made to this general principle, the justification should be clear and made explicit at initial course recognition. There is no minimum or maximum age requirement for admission to an Access to HE course.
Admissions procedures and criteria are expected to ensure that applicants’ needs and capacities are considered with reference to the characteristics of particular courses, and may therefore differ in their detail. This principle recognises that Access to HE courses are designed with reference to the needs of varying target groups and progression opportunities. If the target groups for the course are revised, the course itself, including its admission practices, should be reviewed in relation to continuing fitness for purpose.
The admissions process should be designed to ensure that the needs and abilities of individual students match the aims and demands of particular courses. To this end:
Admissions should be made according to transparent and justifiable criteria, and should include reference to:
the match between the applicant’s aims and goals and the primary aim of the programme as a preparation for study in higher education
the applicant’s ability to benefit from the programme
the applicant’s potential to meet the demands of the programme and complete the programme requirements successfully. A range of evidence may be considered when assessing the potential of an applicant to succeed on a particular programme. Applicants for Access to HE programmes are likely to come from a wide variety of backgrounds, and specific criteria should recognise that applicants can demonstrate their potential to succeed in a variety of ways, and that opportunities to participate in certain activities can be limited by disability or by cultural or social background. In making specific requirements in relation to life or work experience, providers should be aware of a range of legitimate types of experience, and the inappropriateness of some demands for certain groups, particularly in respect of learners with disabilities.
the applicant’s life experience. Successful applicants will normally have substantial experience of life outside of formal education, gained since completing compulsory schooling. Where exceptions are made to this criterion, providers should be clear about the particular circumstances which justify such an exception being made. In certain circumstances, (in relation, for example, to admission to Access to HE programmes preparing students for an HE course leading to a professional qualification) it may be appropriate to require students to have particular kinds of work experience
the applicant’s educational experience. Where an applicant has recently undertaken the whole, or part of, another Level 3 course, the application should be considered with particularly careful reference to points i – iii, above.
2Paragraph 3.5 of QAA Recognition Scheme for Access to Higher Education in England, Wales and Northern Ireland: Principles and criteria for the licensing of Authorised Validating Agencies (October 2005). This document can be located at www.accesstohe.ac.uk/home/publications/recognition/recog_principles.asp
3Current legislation (the Learning and Skills Act 2000) makes a clear distinction between provision intended for those under the age of 19 and that intended for those over the age of 19. Section 96 of the 2000 Act provides that, for persons under 19, a course which leads to an external qualification can only receive funding from the Learning and Skills Council for England (LSC) (as an ‘authorised body’ under Section 100) if that external qualification is approved by the Secretary of State (as per Sections 98 and 99), QAA-recognised Access to HE qualifications are external qualifications not approved for the purposes of the Learning and Skills Act 2000. Therefore they are ineligible for LSC funding for learners under the age of 19. Section 96 of the 2000 Act also applies in Wales, where the approval of external qualifications (as per section 99) and the funding, is authorised by the Welsh Ministers.
4Paragraph 3.6 of QAA Recognition Scheme for Access to Higher Education in England, Wales and Northern Ireland: Principles and criteria for the licensing of Authorised Validating Agencies. This document can be found at www.accesstohe.ac.uk/home/publications/recognition/recog_principles.asp