Widening participation in Higher Education
: An investigation of the experiences and views of students, parents, teachers, and higher education staff of a pre-entry programme

  • Timothy Crawford

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Education


This study explored widening participation [WP] in higher education [HE] by investigating the views and experiences of students, their parents, teachers and University staff, in a pre-entry to HE programme.

The research focussed on researching the influence of a Pathway Opportunity Programme [POP] on students’ aspirations, preparedness and learning for university, with consideration of the most valuable aspects of the POP, alongside how it could be improved. Other ways to widen participation and help to overcome barriers to HE were also explored.

In order to discover participants’ views to obtain a better understanding of their experiences, the research study used the Capabilities Approach as a conceptual framework. A mixed methods design was utilised, with data collection through semi-structured interviews and online surveys. The challenges of ‘insider’ research was discussed, and the Capabilities Approach employed to thematically analyse and interpret the data.

The study found that their experiences of the pre-entry programme impacted positively on participants’ aspirations for HE with increased confidence, motivation, and decision-making. The study also observed that participants improved their preparedness for university, with the residential and online learning components particularly aiding the transition to HE. Regarding the effect on student learning, the study reports an increase in participants’ non-cognitive, affective skills. In addition, the study found the most valuable aspects of the POP are the insight it provides into the university experience, the incentives offered, and the positive impact on communication skills and motivation. Improvements to structural aspects of the programme are also presented. Furthermore, the study reports four areas which could advance WP in HE: earlier intervention, tutoring, financial incentives, and partnerships.

The thematic analysis and resultant sub-themes make an original contribution to the field by expanding Walker’s application of the capabilities approach to WP in HE.
Date of AwardJul 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsQueen's University Belfast
SupervisorJannette Elwood (Supervisor) & Ian Cantley (Supervisor)


  • Widening participation
  • higher education
  • pre-entry
  • compact scheme
  • pathway opportunity programme
  • transition to university
  • aspirations, preparedness, learning for university
  • barriers to HE
  • HE
  • capabilities approach
  • capability approach
  • online learning
  • university experience
  • incentives to participation
  • earlier intervention
  • tutoring
  • financial incentives
  • partnerships

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