2015 Forum for Access and Continuing Education (FACE) Conference
Written by Mr Paul Koshy, NCSEHE Research Fellow
The Forum for Access and Continuing Education (FACE) is a UK-based group with a mission to facilitate the exchange and dissemination of ideas on the issue of lifelong learning and continuing education, with a particular emphasis on disadvantage.
The 2015 FACE conference was held at the University of South Wales in Cardiff, over the first three days of July. I attended on behalf of the NCSEHE and presented a paper on disadvantage and education participation in Australia.
The conference program highlighted the central concern of FACE under an overall theme of “Closing the Gap: Bridges for Access and Lifelong Learning.”
A key issue was the current funding environment for higher (universities) and further (technical colleges) education in the UK, particularly in relation to the issue of access. Nick Davy of the Association of Colleges delivered a keynote address on broader funding issues and, in particular, the pressing issues of funding for further and technical education in the UK, and the need for stronger linkages between education and the workplace.
Sarah Howls of the Higher Education Funding Council for England focused on one aspect of this challenge, notably the impact of recent fee increases on part-time enrolment in universities across the UK, with some areas reporting declines of 40 per cent of more. This has refocused attention on the role tuition and living costs play in higher education access.
At the practitioner level, there was an encouraging discussion of outreach work in Wales, including First Campus which provides access opportunities though school and community groups. Innovative approaches to student engagement included the use of progressive partnerships to enhance accessibility and the use of feed-forward suggestions on class assignments to improve the future performance of students – an approach being developed by Theresa Wyborn at The University of Western Sydney College.
The conference’s broad concerns were reflected in the international sphere, with representatives from the US, Sweden and Australia sharing their views on the conference topic. The two common themes to emerge were income support programs for students – an issue even in Sweden, where higher education is tuition fee – and the challenge of maintaining a system which can accommodate students from a wide variety of backgrounds. Continuing this theme, Brian Power of the Bologna Working Group on Higher Education, spoke on their move to integrate the reporting and benchmarking of disadvantage and equity outcomes into the overall reporting mechanism for Bologna signatories.
The next FACE conference will be held in Belfast in July 2016.