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Becoming not Being: using the rhizome in widening participation evaluation

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Evaluation of widening participation (WP) activity is becoming a core expectation within higher education. It now forms a central focus to access and participation plans: a key document to qualify as a higher education provider within England. The new regulator for English higher education providers, the Office for Students (OfS), has placed their evaluation strategy within discourses of value for money, risk and accountability, reflecting the marketised higher education system (OfS, 2018).
This innovative practice article extends a concept presented at the Open University's Access, Participation and Success event 'Evaluating WP initiatives: Overcoming the Challenges' in February 2019. In this article we provide an example of how the Southern Universities Network (SUN) is developing the concept of the rhizome into evaluative practice that challenges established evaluation methods currently celebrated by the regulator. As part of the strategically funded Uni Connect programme (OfS, 2020), our evaluation practice is expected to provide evidence of 'what works' in wid ening participation activity. As evaluators, our practice should ensure our activities are fit for purpose and provide positive outcomes for our participants. Within this article we outline why our current evaluative practice does not allow for transformative widening participation (Jones and Thomas, 2005) and why we must think wider than linear timelines and fixed measurements to truly understand what works.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: July 1, 2020

More about this publication?
  • 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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