Transition to university is often geared towards students from an A-level background, so are we doing enough for students with vocational qualifications starting at Reading?
Recent research from UCAS shows that one in four university entrants has done a BTEC (Havergal, 2016). Issues such as culture shock, work/life balance, different assessment methods, and the perception that A-level entrants may be better equipped to study at university are some of the concerns BTEC students can have when starting their degree (Clark, 2011). As Study Advisers, we observed similar concerns when working with former BTEC students here at Reading, particularly in relation to learning from lectures and taking exams, as these are not teaching and assessment methods used on BTEC courses. With these transition issues in mind, and also in light of the increased focus on widening participation, we conducted a short survey to gauge the views of current Reading students with BTEC qualifications on their readiness for university. We wanted to assess whether it would be beneficial to host a pre-entry event for BTEC entrants before they start here in the autumn, following the model of our well-established and successful pre-entry day for mature students.
We sent the questionnaire to all current Reading undergraduate and taught postgraduate students who had taken a BTEC (over 800 students) and received 173 replies. The results confirmed the previous research and our own observations. 45% of respondents described themselves as ‘fairly well prepared’ for university. However when this was explored further, 41.8% also felt that studying at university was ‘fairly different’ to the style of learning they were used to with the main difference being the style of assessments. Respondents pinpointed referencing, preparing for exams and academic reading as the areas they most wished they had known more about before starting university, again reflecting a concern with assessment and the style of academic learning at university. Similar to more general research findings (Clark, 2011; Reidy, 2015) our own former BTEC students identified their studying strengths as coursework, independence, subject knowledge and motivation. This suggests that BTECs give a good foundation in independent learning and indicates that students are likely to be motivated to attend a pre-entry event. However, the results also suggest there are gaps in transition guidance, especially around some assessment methods. Indeed, it is concerning that a wider HEA study has shown that students who went to university with vocational qualifications were less likely to achieve a first or 2:1 (Havergal, 2016). This indicates that we should be doing more to prepare BTEC students for the culture of HE assessment and to foster the potential of BTEC students.
Based on the survey findings, Study Advice is now investigating the possibility of hosting a pre-entry event for BTEC students this summer. We would be very interested in talking to others looking at transition and support for BTEC entrants.
Clark, W. (2011). ‘Transitions in action? Exploring vocational learner progression into and out of higher education’. Educational Developments, 12.2, pp.9-12.
Havergal, C. (2016). ‘One in four university entrants has a BTEC, Ucas study finds’. Times Higher Education, 28 January 2016. Online at https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/one-in-four-university-entrants-has-a-btec-ucas-study-finds Accessed 05/04/16.
Reidy, T. (2015). ‘Will taking a BTec help or hinder your university application?’ The Guardian, Education section, 21 July 2015. Online at http://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/jul/21/will-taking-a-btec-help-or-hinder-your-university-application Accessed 05/04/16.