Chapter 8: Building Practitioner and Research Communities
There is no lack of commitment to, and expertise in, fair access in Scotland. A substantial body of enthusiastic and experienced practitioners exists, in both institutions and the Funding Council. Most institutional practitioners naturally operate mainly in the context of their institutional responsibilities, although they have formed lively networks. In addition there is a critical mass of researchers in fair access, some in education and other departments in universities and some better described as practitioner researchers. Although there have been substantial pieces of work funded by public bodies such as the Economic and Social Research Council and foundations such as the Sutton Trust, there is also a wide array of smaller-scale research that often arises from evaluation of institutional initiatives. Finally, there are many other interested parties - well-informed bloggers, specialist journalists, civil servants who work on access issues (and supported the work of the Commission on Widening Access) and MSPs and other public figures who have become expert in fair access issues.
It would help if there was a clearer national focus. The group established to develop a Framework for Fair Access, which is expected to make an initial report in the spring, is likely to recommend that a community of practice should be developed to link together institutional practitioners and allow good practice to be shared more easily. Such a community would both be a virtual resource but also help to organise meetings and seminars.
There is a strong case for establishing a similar community of researchers on fair access. This could bring together senior academics, junior researchers and PhD students with practitioner researchers, and act as a forum for the exchange of findings and views (as will be the case with the community of practice). It could also help to develop a framework for the synthesis of smaller-scale studies based on institution-level data and qualitative studies (often evaluations of institutional initiatives). It could sponsor seminars and conferences, and help to disseminate research findings to journalists and politicians in accessible forms. Such a community of researchers would need to work closely with the proposed community of practice to be recommended by the Framework for Fair Access group, and also with access researchers in England and Wales, in Europe generally and across the world.