The 2003 White Paper which initiated QAA’s research project asked “…QAA, which regulates the national recognition of Access courses, to come forward with proposals to modernise the criteria for Access Courses to make them sufficiently flexible and attractive to meet the needs of adult learners.” While its content was, and remains, developed to meet local needs delivery was quite static. Face to face teaching over one academic year became the norm and, because of funding and other challenges outside of our remit, part-time offerings decreased. There had been a steady increase in provision at private training providers since 2012 but the Diploma was mainly delivered with students in the same physical space in one academic year. However we have seen significant changes to pattern of delivery since 2018. While the majority of courses are taught over one academic year, the number of students studying over one year that straddles the academic year has increased, along with the proportion of students choosing to study on a roll-on / roll-off basis. Around a third of all Access to HE students are now registered to complete in more than one academic year. Many more students now study totally online or through hybrid or blended provision. Student needs have changed and course providers are responding to these needs. We are all learning.
This change in delivery has been accelerated by the global pandemic. Who would have a thought a virus would change the shape of education provision overnight? We have all had to develop new ways of working and many of these, including some of the best bits, have incorporated into our current working practices.
The Diploma’s flexibility came to the fore throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. And yet despite affording greater flexibility for delivery, content and assessment under our Extraordinary Regulatory Frameworks, we saw little change in the overall grade profile for Access to HE Diplomas awarded nationally. The proportion of Distinction grades as a percentage of all graded credit awarded 2021-22 is four percentage points higher than those awarded in 2018-19. The proportion of students achieving an all Distinction profile is just 2.5 percentage points higher than for 2018-19.
This stable grade profile demonstrates that, under QAA’s guidance, AVAs and providers implement robust quality assurance mechanisms, ensuring consistency is applied across all Access to HE Diplomas. These robust quality assurance activities support the flexibility of course design afforded under the Diploma Specification. This qualification was resilient throughout the pandemic, as were the teachers that delivered the Diploma, students that studied the Diploma and AVAs that awarded the Diploma.