In a competitive process that saw only two projects funded across the UK, the team from the University has secured backing to consider the changing patterns in vocational entry qualifications, student support and outcomes in undergraduate degree programmes.

The research, which will run for 12 months, will include analysing longitudinal data on attainment from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) and focus group data from students and academic staff.

Speaking about the project, Dr Masardo explained that reforms stemming from the 2010 Browne Report and the subsequent BIS Higher Education White Paper ‘Students at the Heart of the System’, introduce a series of changes that aim to make higher education institutions more responsive to student needs.

But, while the White Paper includes specific commitments to students entering higher education with vocational qualifications, there are concerns that the provisions in place are insufficient.

Dr Masardo explained: “These policy commitments and existing concerns about student support both indicate an urgent need for systematic research on outcomes for students entering higher education with vocational qualifications, in order to ensure that they are fairly supported in the changing environment."

“Developing this area of research is particularly pressing, as figures compiled by Pearson in 2011 reveal a 30 per cent year-on-year increase in the numbers of those attaining places at UK universities with BTEC-level qualifications.”

The research team will be working with an HEA steering group that includes Professor Dan Davies from Bath Spa University and a University of Bath advisory group that includes Annette Hayton, Head of Widening Participation.

Commenting, she said: “Students taking vocational qualifications, such as BTECs, are often very committed to studying a particular subject meaning that, in many ways, they are well suited to the in-depth study required by a university degree. But universities do need to provide the support students need to succeed so this project is very timely.”

Professor Jane Millar, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research, added: “The issues being tackled within this project are of relevance to the higher education sector as a whole. This work complements existing research carried out by the Department of Education and contributes to a highly important national discussion.”

Ellie Hynes, President of the Student Union said: “Gaining a place at University through a vocational route has become an increasingly important issue for students nationally and the research is to be welcomed.”

  • To find out more about the project see the Project Page under Current Research on the HEA website