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Considering the 'Impact' of Widening Participation: The Employment Experiences of Access Graduates from an Irish University

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As the debate about Higher Education (HE) and social mobility moves from widening participation (WP) to HE towards equality of outcomes of graduates from differentially positioned groups, an examination of access graduates' employment experiences is important. This paper examines the 'impact' of WP in Irish higher education (HE) through a focus on the employment experiences of two groups of access graduates from one Irish university (those who had completed school-leaver-aged and mature-aged pre-entry access courses). This paper draws on the findings of a study which aimed to explore the undergraduate, postgraduate, and employment experiences of access graduates through a mixed-methods research design. The paper provides evidence of a positive impact on the life chances of access graduates relative to their initial starting points, in terms of employment status, type, and satisfaction levels, although the outcomes for older mature-aged participants were poorer. Compared to findings from England, a minority reported that their employment experiences had been negatively affected by their socio-demographic positioning, although social class, age, and family responsibilities were highlighted as constraining issues. The paper ends by noting the need for HE to move beyond a metrics-based conceptualisation of WP, towards an equality of outcomes approach, which requires core supports that are relevant for all, and not just 'traditional', student groups.
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Keywords: ACCESS TO HIGHER EDUCATION; EMPLOYMENT; WIDENING PARTICIPATION

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2016

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  • The journal is based on the belief that there are neglected links between research and theory, and policy and practice in the promotion of widening participation in post-compulsory education and lifelong learning. It aims to provide a forum for the development of theory, the addressing of policy questions and the dissemination of innovative practice in the field of widening participation and lifelong learning.
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