Analyse and critically evaluate the implementation of a policy
When approaching this essay it is important to firstly approach the educational policy that is going to be considered, in this instance it is that of a policy that arises in “The Government’s 2003 White Paper, The Future of Higher Education”(NAO, 2008) a policy of “a commitment to widen participation in higher education, by helping more people from under-represented groups, particularly lower socio-economic backgrounds, to participate successfully in higher education”… along with “a policy to increase participation of those aged 18 to 30 towards 50 per cent by 2010. “(NAO, 2008).
It is important when looking at these issues to mention the concept of ‘fair access’ as this is a concept that continuously crops up when inspecting this particular policy, ‘fair access’ to be present when attempting to level the playing field, so to speak, with University admissions and widening participation, ‘fair access can be explained as follows; “No institution should exclude applicants on anything other than academic grounds, and in particular that extraneous matters like family circumstances, social class or ethnic origin should not enter into decisions about admissions. (HEPI, 2003)
The widening participation policy and in particularly the implementation of it, is going to be critically evaluated in the context of how a specific institution has implemented this government directive and the way that it had developed its own policy for the issue. The individual institution that is going to be scrutinised is the University of Central Lancashire, a case study for their ‘Widening Participation’ policy and how it is implemented is going to be undertaken.
The United Nations’ International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights decreed that “higher education shall be made equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education” (United Nations ICESCR Article 13). This statement was issued in 1966 and was a clear statement of how the world and its leaders wanted to the Education Institutes to progress. However, the reality of the situation is that even in today’s society only a small percentage of the world’s population actually achieves the accolade of a university or college degree.
Higher education is somewhat expensive, and few from the lower socio economic groups can afford it with out some kind of outside assistance. “Whereas schools and universities can devise widening participation strategies that address some aspects of the barriers relating to information and qualifications, the barrier of cost is entirely related on central government policy. ” (Archer et al, 2003) If a survey conducted by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) in 2000 is anything to go by, while 48% of the higher social groups opted for improving their educational backgrounds, only 18% from the lower groups participated in the same.
The gap between both the social groups was around 30% which show us evidence of a significant gap in participation from between these two socio-economic sectors which shows us the reason behind the Government push on this issue subsequently in 2003 in the afore mentioned The Future of Higher Education Paper. Some reasons that academics have cited for example (Archer et al, 2003) for this trend include the inability to bear the overall expenses of studying for a higher university degree, the desire to earn money rather than study and the feeling that good institutions and good jobs are closed doors for them.
Now that the concept and the reasoning behind the widening participation strategy have been touched upon, it is important to look at this in the context of the New Right Ideology. It was Margaret Thatcher and her Conservative government who first ushered in New Right Ideology in the United Kingdom and when dealing with matters concerning higher education, there was little difference to the values behind the government policies that were being introduced here, from the many other aspects of society where she had started to make rapid changes.
Steps were taken to push the New Right’s ideology of privatisation and promote the value of Market Forces and competition. This is a legacy that can be reflected into the way that Universities today recruit students, spending a great amount of time and effort marketing themselves to increase participation acting more as businesses than places for learning. When looking at the implementation of this policy and any other educational policy, there are two theoretical approaches, which are most commonly that is that of the ‘Managerialist Approach’ and that of the ‘Phenomenological Approach’.
The managerialist approach is a rationalist approach which is implemented from the ‘Top-Down’ meaning hat the direction comes from above, for example the institute or organisation is run of the needs and perspectives of the management as its starting point and uses their vision and goal of what the organisation needs to achieve as its plan. This approach is structured, well-planned and well-organised and excellent communication and co-ordination to be successful as “all of this requires planning and managing…
It cannot be left to chance or good intensions. “(Beckhard et al, 1992 p15) Examples of actions that are taken by organisations using this approach are strong mission statements and company logos, which are used to create a ‘team-spirit’ among the work force and encourage the workers to work together to achieve the management’s common goal. The ‘Phenomenological Approach’ is the reverse of the managerialist approach in the sense that it is implemented from the bottom up.
The focus and direction comes from the people ‘on the front line’ so to speak, the ones who are dealing with the day to day implementation of the policy within the organisation, this allows the individuals carrying the out the policy to interpret the policy in a way that adheres to their beliefs, needs and interpretation. The main issue when looking at the implementation of policy is that of refraction. This is when the way that a policy is meant and the way that it is actually carried out is different.
This distortion is due to the mediators of the policy individual factors that influence their behaviour, for example their background or culture, the resources they have available to them and the location that they are in, it could even come down to something so simple as the kind of day that they are having to whether they implement it in the way that it was intended or not. The two opposing theories that can be applied can somewhat deal with the problem of refraction however it cannot be totally remedied due to the problems with ‘discourse and text’ as described by academic of this matter Stephen Ball.
When looking at the implementation of policy it is essential to consider the ‘Implementation Staircase’, which was introduced by Reynolds and Saunders (1987). This is a model of implementation, which shows the level of power and path of implementation from a national to a classroom level in regards to education. At the top you have the direction of central government, where the policy is formed and funds are allocated for the implementation of it, the next step down on the staircase is how the leaders of the individual institutes.
Head teachers and Principals along with Local Education Authorities deal with this policy and begin to put it into practice. At the next stage, several leaders and co-ordinators of this institution get together and decide how to implement the policy throughout their organisation and they produce written rationale describing how this is gong to be undertaken i. e. ‘UCLan’s Widening Participation Policy’ is one which has been devised using the government’s guidelines but is specific to the University of Central Lancashire.
The fourth step on the staircase represents how street-level bureaucrats such as teachers and civil servants who are the ones at the lowest level of power who make decisions about people’s lives and future. Finally at the bottom of the staircase are the people who are the one who are supposed to benefit from the policy, the students or pupils of the organisation, at this level the students use the policy where possible to ‘balance time and effort with risks and rewards’ (Reynolds and Saunders, 1987).
Under the conservative government of Margaret Thatcher and John Major students did not have to pay for university courses, however after the 1997 election of Tony Blair’s ‘New Labour’, the old Conservative way of doing things was abolished and in regards to higher education new policy was formed with immense focus put on increasing the number of participants in higher education from lower socio-economic backgrounds and make higher education accessible for everyone.
These changes in policy saw the introduction of an upfront fee of around of i?? 1200 per year with grants available for the students for low-income households; this was felt to be a better way of attracting under privileged students into higher education.
The money that was received by way of tuition fees was given to the universities to help widen participation, however the money being received was not enough to supplement the running of the Universities in a successful manner and numbers were not high enough, through this, after much dispute in central government the Higher Education Act 2004 was introduced, this meant that from September 2006, universities themselves could decide how much they were going to charge up to i?? 3000. Given this kind of choice and control to the institution is another example of New Right’s push on market forces that can be seen in education.
With these new higher fees, students could obtain a loan to pay their tuition fees as well as a standard maintenance loan or grant, depending on their household income. The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has created the OFFA or the Office for Fair Access. This is a non-departmental body that works independently. Its function is to safeguard fair access to higher education for under-represented groups, because of the variable tuition fees as mentioned, OFFA peruses each document outlining the reason for the tuition fees that each institution is charging and reviews it thoroughly before granting approval.
The additional income coming in from fees has to be utilised for getting in students from the lower income strata. The OFFA follows a set of guidelines advocated by the former Secretary of State for Education and Skills, Professor Steven Schwartz, the guidelines state that, verbatim; Transparency is to be practiced by every educational institution, as well as the funding body. Preference should be given to students who have exhibited great potential to achieve goals set for them regardless of background, ethic group or social status.
When institutions do use their own assessment methods and entrance criteria they should prove to be valid and dependable. Although it is not possible to get rid of all barriers between students i. e. coming from different backgrounds, having varied IQ, etc. , they could at least be minimised so that students feel comfortable when approaching higher education. Finally, every institution has to promise to be professional in attitude and behaviour.
With these guidelines to follow the way that this was implemented by universities had to be scrutinised and although the higher education system was going through ‘marketisation’ (Williams, 1995) with the influence of the New Right, the values of Old Labour, such as equal opportunity, this is an example of how under New Labour a ‘Third way’, an extension of New Right ideology with the ‘best bits’ of traditional Labour values was created. The whole system of financial support was radically changed with the introduction of grants or non-repayable bursaries for students from lower income households as well as lone parents, carers and disabled.
Along with this funds were made available for universities to distribute at their own discretion such as UCLans’s ‘Access to Learning Fund’ these access fund were primarily for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, lone parents and mature students with strenuous financial commitments. Students apply directly to their university and have to provide a great deal of information and evidence about their individual circumstances for the funds to become available.
Universities also develop their own bursary system, for example UCLan has a number of bursaries that can also be applied for; such as the Harris Bursary especially for students with their home address in Lancashire. When looking at UCLan more closely it can be seen that a managerialist approach has been used with the implementation of this policy, it has followed the government guidelines closely and rolled out the policy throughout the institution to the staff, in particular to those who are dealing with the students affected by the policy on a day to day basis.
The university has made sure that staff working for them in the finance department and in departments such as ‘The I’, an information service for current and prospective students, are briefed on the universities policies on bursaries and scholarships. Having visited both of these places it was clear that the system being operated in this way was successful, as the information on what would be available for prospective students or current students in particular circumstances was readily available, clearly explained and information on how to go about applying was given.
Its becomes obvious that it is not the phenomenological approach being used as there is no discretion by the people implementing the policy at the bottom when ding things such as awarding bursaries, this is all decided by the management of the establishment. The University say this on the matter of bursaries and scholarships; “After careful consideration it has been concluded that our priority will be to provide financial assistance to as many students as possible, ensuring that the impact of top up fees is minimised and that all students in need of financial support benefit from the scheme.
It is intended that any student in need of financial assistance will have access to bursaries. ” (University of Central Lancashire in OFFA Agreement, 2006) When carefully considering what UCLan has done to implement the values of the widening participation policy it is important to look at firstly the policy that has been developed and is implemented throughout the institute.
The agreement with OFFA states “UCLan wishes to ensure that its students from less disadvantaged backgrounds have a certainty of bursary”, this is to ensure that they are marketing themselves in a positive way and making themselves appealing and available to all students from all backgrounds. Along with this they also have the ‘Harris Bursary’ for disadvantaged students from Lancashire, students at F. E. colleges have the opportunity to gain higher levels of bursary; this is done to encourage “non-traditional learners”.
Excellence scholarships are also provided in particular subject area for the most talented students to be of help to the “widest possible range of students”, this show elements of the ‘Third Way’ as it shows element of meritocracy which is a belief of New Labour, that someone should achieve in life down to their own ability and the work that they put in rather than opportunities due to class and status. Finally the university develops relationships with partner businesses to show students a clear career path and the benefits of higher education.
Next it is important to consider what the university is doing at the moment but plans to improve on, UCLan states again in the agreement that it is going to make improvements in the following areas, providing better; “external liaison, customised service, financial advice, relationship management and support for vulnerable students”, they plan to do this by providing “in depth advisory sessions for students, families and teachers, strengthening the student services team, providing a helpline, online information and printed fact sheets, extend call centre and its technologically based systems and further develop programmes for support.
With these proposals it is evident that the focus and need for improving and widening participation is clearly being met, as well as this it becomes apparent again that a managerialist approach is being used with the direction from above travelling down the “implementation staircase”. This is clearly successful with over half of the student population receiving the bursary to help with tuition fees.
Over all with UCLan having high admissions numbers with a very diverse student body it suggests the implementation has been successful, the dialect of control that has been used by the management at UCLan, i. e. the way that they have chosen to implement this particular policy compared to other universities has been successful to it and has suited its locality as well as all the other factors that have been taken into consideration when marketing the university.
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