Who Goes to College via Access Routes? A Comparative Study of Widening Participation Admission in Selective Universities in Ireland and England

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

Who Goes to College via Access Routes? A Comparative Study of Widening Participation Admission in Selective Universities in Ireland and England


  • Katriona O’Sullivan Department of Adult and Community Education, Maynooth University, Ireland
  • Delma Byrne Department of Sociology, Maynooth University, Ireland
  • James Robson Department of Education, University of Oxford, UK
  • Niall Winters Department of Education, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK


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Abstract:  This article explores changing national widening participation (WP) policy and responses from Higher Education institutions (HEIs) from a cross-national perspective. Specifically, the use of contextualised admissions and the provision of foundation year programmes in selective universities in Ireland and England are the key foci of interest. Using data gathered from WP students in two selective universities in Ireland and England, we explore how student characteristics differ according to the WP route undertaken. In an attempt to generate more knowledge of how HEIs enact WP policy, we draw on interviews conducted with staff involved in admission decision-making to explore how those with responsibility for admission within each institutional context perceive the WP pathways and their aims. The findings highlight how important it is for selective universities to adopt multiple WP pathways given that the use of contextualised admission and the provision of foundation years attract quite diverse student intakes. In both contexts, those entering through foundation years have experienced greater levels of disadvantage in terms of family history of education and family occupation compared to their contextualised admission counterparts. The qualitative findings reveal that those with responsibility for admission perceive the WP admission routes in different ways, highlighting a clash between institutional culture and the goals of WP.

Keywords:  access; England; higher education admission; Ireland; selective universities; social class; widening participation

Published:   10 January 2019


DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/si.v7i1.1647


© Katriona O’Sullivan, Delma Byrne, James Robson, Niall Winters. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.