Symposium: Widening Participation in Psychology: A Reflection on Current Research and Practice.

Authors: Taylor, J. and Sander, P.

Conference: British Psychological Society Annual Psychology Conference

Dates: 1-3 April 2009

Publisher: BPS

Place of Publication: Leicester

ISSN: 1754-8837


The aims of Widening Participation (WP) policies include those that reduce bias in access and participation and those that promote the inclusion and success of under-represented groups (e.g. those with low incomes, disability or from particular ethnic, gender or age groups). Researchers and teachers in Psychology have both methodological skills and theoretical understanding of human behaviour and are therefore well-placed to explore many aspects involved in Widening Participation. Two of the presentations will draw on psychological theory to explain WP-related issues. Jenny Mercer will identify how perspectives from lifespan psychology can enhance our understanding of the issues that face students entering HE from disadvantaged backgrounds. Her research, conducted with first generation adult returners from the South Wales valleys, will consider some of the conflicts that such students may encounter, together with the positive outcomes such as confidence and a changed sense of self. Similarly, Jacqui Taylor & Becky House will explore self-confidence and identity at different stages of the student life-cycle and relate their findings to perspectives from developmental and social psychology.

Methodologically, Psychologists have used both qualitative and quantitative methods to explore the impacts of WP. Keith Stevenson draws on qualitative methods in his analysis of interviews with students and staff regarding their views on why applications from WP students have reduced recently. While Paul Sander explores a quantitative way to measure and respond to students’ academic confidence by showing how psychometric approaches can be used to engage with and support students, who may be lacking confidence in what for many from WP areas is an alien environment.

Over the past eight years the application of WP practices has grown, with an increasing number of bodies and strategies being developed to support such activities. Reddy will review the advantages and disadvantages of one of these strategies; a foundation year for degrees in psychology and related health professions. Peter compares progression and success rates to national averages for Access courses to show that the foundation year is less successful. He concludes that collaborations between Universities and Access course providers are needed to resolve difficulties and contribute to equitable admissions practice. The discussion led by Annie Trapp will bring together the key issues of the five presentations and will consider the range of WP research, practices and policies and the extent that such strategies have successfully achieved their aims. Finally, symposium attendees will participate in a discussion on a vision of WP in the future. In summary, attendees will leave with an up-to-date snapshot of the important issues surrounding Widening Participation in psychology.

Source: Manual

Preferred by: Jacqui Taylor