Education and Lifelong Learning: Research Findings No.59/2010: Measurements of Participation in Scottish Higher Education

These research findings were published in October 2010.

“In December 2009, the Lifelong Learning Analytical Services Unit commissioned research to examine current approaches to the measurement of participation in Higher Education ( HE) and to advise on possible options for further development. The research was prompted by a number of factors, including the recognition that the current headline measure of HE participation in Scotland – the Age Participation Index – was not sufficiently broad in its coverage of mature and part-time learners.

The main findings were:

  • There is a vast literature on the participation of disadvantaged groups and non-traditional learners in HE. However, the literature which deals specifically with the measurement of participation rates, both in the UK and elsewhere, is limited
  • There are a number of types of measurement of participation including gross enrolment rates; age specific participation rates; age specific initial entry rates; true cohort young participation rates; and, for local areas, standardised participation ratios. Each measure has different strengths and weaknesses
  • There are no currently available satisfactory ‘off the shelf’ measures which can be used to produce rates for part-time and mature learners
  • There is no common methodology currently adopted across the four UK administrations either to measure HE participation or to monitor improvements in widening access; however, there is considerable support for greater comparability both in headline measures and in general methodology
  • The Age Participation Index ( API) is used and valued in Scotland. Stakeholders do not wish to see it discontinued in the short term since it provides information about trends; however, there is a shared view that it does not provide a broad enough assessment of the participation of ‘non-traditional’ groups in HE
  • Stakeholders would like measures that cover not only enrolment and initial entry into HE (as provided by the current measures) but also articulation from FE and elsewhere, subsequent entry, completion, and subsequent entry into employment
  • Stakeholders would like to see measures of participation reported by a wide range of individual student, institutional factors, and mode of study.”

The full report is also available.


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