By Dr Neil Raven, FACE Executive Member and Educational Consultant

A significant access challenge concerns the progression to higher education of young males from widening participation backgrounds, especially although not exclusively white British men (sometimes referred to as white working class males). Yet, whilst under-represented some from this cohort do go onto HE. In doing so, these individuals represent a potentially valuable, although often untapped, source of insights into the forces inhibiting as well as enabling HE participation. This study, supported and funded by the Higher Horizons Collaborative Outreach Network, investigates these forces by drawing on evidence gathered from a sample of males from low participation neighbourhoods in Stoke on Trent, Mid-Staffordshire and Crewe. 

Whilst they experienced a range of challenges, the accounts from these men also reveal a number of shared factors that help to explain their HE progression. Prominent amongst these was a determination to progress. Moreover, all talked of a particular subject interest that, in most instances, could be traced back to an early age, with some demonstrating resilience in maintaining this interest to learn in the face of peer pressure to do otherwise. They also shared a strong belief in the value of HE as a way of advancing and improving their situations. In addition, most talked of parents who were supportive of their higher education ambitions, even though they were from families with no history in HE. Other positive influencers were also discussed.  These included siblings, relatives and friends, along with certain teachers and tutors who helped raise their educational ambitions in general and those associated with HE in particular.
In the context of their own experiences, these young men also explored how the challenges to progression encountered by those from comparable backgrounds to their own might be tackled. Here reference was made to the key messages that should be communicated, the most effective mechanisms for disseminating these messages and who the messengers should be. From such insights, the study was able to compile a set of recommendations for outreach practitioners and others concerned with enhancing the HE prospects of a group of young people who, evidence indicates, are amongst those least likely to enter university.

For more information and to obtain a copy of the final report, email Neil.

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