Prof. John Diamond
John started the session by reminding delegates of the context of the workshop sessions such as whether the ways in which public sector organisations have to examine providing equality in the totality of their operations can translate to Higher Education: Whether we understand completely how individuals from ethnic minorities are drawn into and supported within the Higher Education system: How commercialisation is affecting the sector and the rise of New Managerialism: and how this needs to be understood within a much broader canvas of post 9/11, the implosion of the financial sector and the economy, and the wishful ideal of increasing the numbers of students within the UK Higher Education system given these ongoing problems. There was a very impassioned debate regarding how institutions structure and restructure themselves and the feedback from the workshops was that the papers had had a very positive impact on those taking part and they felt that rather than feeling isolated in trying to widen participation they realised that there were lots of like minded people out there and that networks both within institutions and between institutions would become increasingly important in moving this work from the periphery to the centre of policy and practice.
Stuart Speeden is the Director of the Centre for Local Policy Studies and he emphasised that the work of the Centre is based on the mainstreaming of equality within a variety of organisations but with a focus on the public and voluntary sectors. He discussed the general and specific duties regarding equality of opportunity that have been placed on public bodies by legislation over the past ten years and the kinds of approaches that can be taken to address institutional discrimination and barriers in undertaking these duties. One of the ways in which this can be done is by the Equalities Standard which was designed by Stuart in collaboration with Dr Julian Clarke. Many Local Authorities and other organisations use the Equalities Standard to assess the level to which they are engaging in equal opportunities. He went on to link this to widening participation in educational institutions and how mainstreaming equality can be used to address the issues raised by Mary in her keynote speech.
Dr Mary Tupan-Wenno
Mary Tupan-Wenno is the President of the European Access Network which is the only European-wide, non-organisational organisation for widening participation in Higher Education. Mary shared some of the reseach that has been recently undertaken within Europe that addressed how different countries deal with the education of immigrants. This research focused on Higher Education and found that there was very little information on inequities within tertiary education and little emphasis on collecting information on the equity of outcome. Of the data that was available it was shown was that there was a particular relationship between socio-economic background and participation in Higher Education and that in some countries there were serious challenges to the inclusion of ethnic minorities. Mary went on to discuss further research from several countries that focused on how these issues could be addressed and investigated what support mechanisms are necessary for successful participation.
Professor Kathleen Lynch
Professor Kathleen Lynch from the Equality Studies Centre, School of Social Justice, University College, Dublin is an activist academic who is committed to widening participation into Higher Education. Her closely argued speech outlined the global movement towards the commercialisation of Higher Education and the negative impacts that this has had on other areas of publically funded programmes such as those that are aimed at widening participation and the effects this commercialisation has had on academic research. She went on to describe the ways in which university rankings and league tables are driven and controlled by commercialisation. Kathleen concluded by saying that if we are really committed to equality of opportunity then other values must be taken into account; the focus needs to change; and that the hierarchical culture needs to be addressed.
Dr John Cater
Dr John Cater the Vice Chancellor of Edge Hill University warmly welcomed the delegates to the second Widening Participation Research Centre Conference. He reminded us that the values of equity and equality are important to all cultures but they can be defined in very different ways by policy makers. He went on to passionately defend the practice-based research approach as it can make a difference to people’s lives and he believes is undervalued by the funding organisations. He concluded his introduction by underlining the fact that Edge Hill actively supports widening participation in a variety of ways and levels.