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Title: Fair access and widening participation at the University of Liverpool
Author: Thiele, Tamara
ISNI:       0000 0004 6057 8613
Awarding Body: University of Liverpool
Current Institution: University of Liverpool
Date of Award: 2015
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Across higher education (HE) institutions in the United Kingdom (UK), the lower grades achieved by a large proportion of students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds represents one of the main entry barriers to these students. However, though students’ trajectories into university are heavily dependent on their school qualifications, these alone are limited as predictors of academic potential. The current thesis explores how these inequalities play out at the University of Liverpool (UoL), looking also at the period prior to admission as educational inequalities reflect the long-term negative effects of childhood disadvantage. Aim: To investigate socio-economic inequalities in relation to participation and attainment at the UoL. Methods: A traditional sequential mixed methods design is followed, where quantitative studies 1 and 2 were carried out prior to qualitative study 3. These studies are combined using a pragmatic approach. Two retrospective cohort studies investigate associations between the educational and socio-demographic background characteristics of students on Introduction: Socio-economic inequalities in participation and attainment are ubiquitous three year-programmes (study 1) and the medical programme (study 2) with participation and attainment at the UoL. Underpinned by phenomenology, qualitative study 3 investigates the challenges faced by thirteen socio-economically disadvantaged students throughout their educational trajectories from primary school to the UoL. Results: Studies 1 and 2 depict the on-going socio-economic differences in participation at the UoL. Regarding attainment, in both studies, entry grades were positively associated with final attainment. Most entry-level differences narrowed or disappeared at university in both studies though the variables sex, ethnicity, and school type predicted significant differences in final attainment. As such, privately educated students performed less well than comprehensive school students at university in both studies. In Study 3, two main themes were derived from the data: ‘identity’ and ‘engagement’. These themes emerged across narratives in the types of disruption, barriers and instability that were discussed by individuals and in the ways that they attempted to cope and/or adapt to disadvantage. Conclusions: The findings of the quantitative studies suggest that educational attainment at school is a good, albeit imperfect, predictor of academic attainment at university. These findings support the use of contextual background information, alongside school grades in university admissions processes as a means of refining the selection of students. In turn, individuals' narratives expose a more complex picture of what it means to be disadvantaged, depicting the factors that may affect students' trajectories to HE prior to the point of admissions. Hence, combining quantitative and qualitative studies provides a more nuanced evaluation of 'disadvantage' highlighting various mechanisms that may drive differences in the educational outcomes of socio-economically disadvantaged students. Findings advocate for further evidence using mixed methods to help address these inequalities and widen participation at universities fairly.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available