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Continuum - Widening Participation

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What is Continuum?

As the first UK research centre focusing on the study of widening participation policies, Continuum was officially opened in April 2003 by the then Minister of State for Lifelong Learning and Higher Education. The centre has a clear mission to support and inform developments concerned with widening participation in post compulsory education. It also aims to become a major strategic national and international resource for the research and development of widening participation policy and practice. The UK government is not alone in seeking to both increase and widen participation to further and higher education, consequently Continuum has an international as well a national role to play.

Partnership and networking are two of the defining features of the centre's approach - both help to shape the scope and style of the research and development work being undertaken. As well as its external role, the centre has a key internal role within UEL supporting the development and delivery of the University's widening participation strategy. Dissemination of the findings of Continuum's research and development takes place though its growing programme of seminars and workshops as well as its free newsletters and other publications.

Continuum aims

Continuum - the centre for widening participation policy studies is the first research centre of its kind in the UK.The aim of Continuum is to provide a focus for critical understanding of widening participation policy and practice. Continuum has developed a wide portfolio of work concerned with:

  • Research into widening participation policy - regionally, nationally and internationally.
  • Developing a critical understanding of the interrelationships between widening participation policy and practice.
  • Establishing a major resource base to support the analysis and understanding of widening participation policy and practice.
  • Developing collaborative and partnership modes of working to further understanding of widening participation.

International visiting fellows




Marina is currently the First Year Experience Coordinator at the Western Sydney University, The College where she teachers across first year engineering programs.
Marina has a professional background in chemical/environmental engineering and a research experience in engineering and materials science (nanotechnology). The results from her research were two inventions, number of awards, book chapter and publications. Starting working at WSU The College in 2012 and has since been writing the content for Physics iBook, working as a liaison teacher for SAMAJ (Kenya), developing new courses and online learning resources, and creating her own educational YouTube channel. As the recipient of two Innovation grants Marina led development of video resources for Associate Degree in Engineering and undertook a research into its ‘adaption’ for university pathway courses. Her current research focuses on the strategies to support students from low-SES and on the development of blended and online curriculum resources to enhance student’s leaning experience and learning outcomes.

Sofia is a lecturer in Modern History at University of Western Sydney College, and received her PhD from Macquarie University in 2012. Her research interests have largely focused on discourse and power in the context of the British Empire - particularly on how these were expressed in the media of travel writing - as well as on the history of travel and tourism, gender history and history and theory. She has published in Annals of Tourism Research, as well as an edited collection on food history. In the past couple of years Sofia’s interest in social justice and her love of teaching have coincided in the question of how to provide access to university for students from underprivileged backgrounds, focusing specifically on how to develop reading skills and practices.

Sam Sellar

Dr Sam Sellar is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the School of Education at The University of Queensland. He was formerly a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Australian National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education at the University of South Australia. Sam is currently working on Australian Research Council funded projects examining new accountabilities in schooling, national/international testing and comparative performance data, and the politics of aspiration. He has recently published in the Cambridge Journal of Education (2011; with Gale and Parker) and in Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education. He is also co-author of the recent report on university outreach programs commissioned by the Australian Government: Interventions early in school as a means to improve higher education outcomes for disadvantaged (particularly low SES) students.

Terry O'Brien

From Sydney NSW, Terry visited Continuum in September. Principal of Georges River College Senior High School in Australia included a visit to Continuum as part of a NSW Department of Education and Training research fellowship. Terry is investigating how overseas educational institutions are managing the challenges to learning and teaching strategies posed by the changing learning needs of twenty first century students. She is including both school and post-school age learners in her enquiry.
Terry explained: "Currently the pedagogical model dominates school teaching. However universities and post school educational institutions have traditionally had the role of moving students from pedagogical and towards andragogical (adult) learning. I am seeking information on which aspects of andragogy are applicable to youth learners."
Terry met Professor John Storan and was particularly interested in the work of Continuum, the Aimhigher Programme and the broader approach to Widening Participation developments in the UK. Engagement and retention of students is a current priority in NSW with similar goals in terms of targeting groups at risk to raise their awareness and understanding of the opportunities open to them, raise their achievement and attainment and enhance their post- school options.
As well as briefing Terry on the work of Continuum and Further Education in UK, John took her on a tour of the UEL Docklands campus. Terry expressed great interest in the flexible student- centred approach and in two specific initiatives: the work-based learning facility offered by Library and Learning Services; and the student support offered by the Skill Zone. A great visit was how Terry described it.
Professor Consuello Corradi

Professor of Sociology, Head of the Graduate School of Social Work and Member of the Dean’s Council at Lumsa University (Rome, Italy). Consuelo is also Co-Director of the APEL program in the School of Education, one of the first of its kind in Italy. She has participated in several European projects funded by Grundtvig and Socrates programs on the building of knowledge society and lifelong learning, and is member of Eucen (European universities continuing education network) and Eullearn (European universities lifelong learning network). She is editor of the first book in Italian on APEL, Il sapere visibile (Visible knowledge, Rome, 2003) and co-editor of Recognising Experiential Knowledge. Practices in European Universities (with N. Evans and A. Valk, Tartu, 2006).

She is author of more than 40 articles published in distinguished journals such as Revue française de sociologie, Quaderni di teoria sociale, Studi di sociologia, Discourse and Society, Philosophy and Social Criticism, Cultural Heritage and Contemporary Change, Studies in Symbolic Interaction. Member of the Executive Committee of the Italian Sociological Association (2004-2007), and Delegate for international relations.

Eva-Lena Axelsson

Student Counsellor , Swedish Agency for Networks & Cooperation in Higher Education, Sweden; Study and Careers Advisor, University of Gothenburg. I work at the Swedish Agency for Networks and cooperation in Higher Education, dividing the time in two parts. The first part is to answer students as a careers advisor. The students are mostly interested in distance learning and contact me via www.netuniversity.se. I support, among other networks, a network of careers advisors in all the universities and university colleges around Sweden. We often use ICT and have meetings via web camera to support each other and to share news and information.

The second part is that I work with Widening Participation. The Agency “collect” good practice and research and disseminate this to the universities and university colleges in the country. I also work with arranging meetings, workshops and conferences for practitioners to exchange knowledge and experience. The latest two main tasks for us in the working group is to support the start of a practitioners network, much ideas we’ve got from FACE and a lot of support from Professor Storan. And, we arrange study visit trips for practitioners and policy makers to other countries to learn and get inspiration for the work at their own universities.

I came to UEL in October 2007 to get the opportunity to do some more study visits, to visit, take part in and learn from different projects in Widening Participation. To my help and had the team at Continuum – I had a great time and took a lot of interesting material and ideas back with me. So, thank you very much for hosting me and taking such good care of me and don’t be surprised if you get more questions from colleagues all around Sweden.

Robert Martin

Campus Director of the Secunda Campus of The Vaal University of Technology, South Africa.

Robert visited the UK on a Study Tour and used Continuum as his base from where he interacted with different academics and practitioners in the UK within the field of Entrepreneur and Small business support. The study tour assisted him to finalise his research for in the finalization of his PhD. Robert invites academics and practitioners interested or engaged in research within the Entrepreneur and Small business support field (Advising, Coaching and Mentoring) to get in touch with him to explore possible collaborations. He can be contacted at robert@vut.ac.za.
Joakim Palestro

Project Manager M.A. Department of Evaluation, Swedish National Agency for Higher Education, Sweden (Högskoleverket, Utvärderingsavdelningen)

1998: Master of Arts Uppsala University
1998-2001: Coordinating Secretary DIVERSITY University Colleg Södertörn
2001: Project Manager Swedish National Agency for Higher Education
2004-2006: Chairperson Committee of diversity, Swedish National Agency for higher education.

Janelle Davis

Janelle works as a VET relationships manager for the University of Western Sydney, NSW Australia. Her role facilitates access and credit pathways to higher education for VET learners as well as associated policy, procedures and systems to enable streamlined and smooth articulation. Janelle has worked in the VET and higher education sectors for over twenty five years as an educator and administrator with a strong focus on access and equity for under-represented groups. Over the past five years she has been developing a 360 degree model for encompassing all elements associated with VET entry to university. 

From 2009 – 2011 Janelle has been leading an ALTC (Australian Learning and Teaching Council) research project to explore how VET students experience the shift to higher education and develop strategies for supporting a positive university transition. Having entered university as a mature age student herself she is passionate about provision of lifelong learning options to those who may not have had the opportunity or aspirations to pursue a higher education degree as school leavers. Janelle is now a doctoral student at UWS having completed two postgraduate degrees and in 2011 was awarded an ALTC citation for her contribution to student learning. She is using her award funds to support her visit to UEL after hearing Professor John Storan speak at a seminar in western Sydney last year and being inspired by the work and focus of the Continuum centre. Janelle hopes to share and learn WP experiences with other researchers and practitioners at Continuum to assist her in improving and expanding quality access and transition paths to higher education and increase career and life opportunities for the people in western Sydney and beyond.

Centre associates

Continuum have nine Centre Associates, who are leaders in their fields. They facilitate links throughout the widening participation community of practice both nationally and internationally.


David Noyce was until recently Associate Director for the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), leading the Council’s interactions with universities and colleges in London, Kent and the East of England.

In 1997 he was appointed HEFCE Regional Consultant for the South West Government Region. Highlights of his career as a Regional Consultant include playing a leading part in the creation of the Combined Universities in Cornwall partnership which with EU infrastructural funding support transformed higher education in the most deprived county of England; brokering the funding of Great Western Research, a research collaboration between the Universities of Exeter, Bath and Bristol; and developing a regional widening participation collaboration that achieved a national reputation for effectiveness and innovation.

Between 2008 and March 2014 David was Associate Director for London, Kent and the East of England, overseeing HEFCE’s relations with over fifty higher education institutions in these regions. He led the Council’s policy and operations with regard to health related education and specialist institutions and directed support strategies for universities and colleges experiencing significant financial difficulties including London Metropolitan University when it had its licence to admit overseas students suspended. As a member of HEFCE’s Executive he has had unique insight into the funding and regulation of English Universities at a time of unprecedented change.

David is married with one daughter and in his spare time pursues his interest in health and education as a qualified teacher of the Alexander Technique.


Michael Hill is an Educational Consultant with over 30 years of experience of the adult, further and higher education sectors. His areas of interest include widening access, student retention and success, student engagement and institutional research. He works with a number of bodies including Action on Access, FACE, the HEA, Buttle UK and he sits on the HEFCE WP Reference Group. At present he advises academic and professional staff at a number of universities and colleges on strategies to improve student retention, success and attainment.

Mike Osborne

Michael Osborne is Professor of Adult and Lifelong Learning at the University of Glasgow, and experienced in adult education, VET and Higher Education research, development and evaluation. He is Director of the Centre for Research and Development in Adult and Lifelong Learning within the Faculty of Education and Co-director of the PASCAL Observatory on Place Management, Social Capital and Lifelong Learning.

His research includes: a Scottish Higher Education Funding Council/National Health Service (Scotland) funded project concerned with selection of students in medicine and Veterinary Science (WHAP); the development of audit tools for stakeholders within Learning Regions (Indicators project under the Network of Learning Regions (R3L) programme) and projects that develop related learning audits (Lilara), and a sustainable network of learning regions/cities (PENR3L); a major ESRC TLRP project on the Social and Organisation Mediation of University Learning (SOMUL). He is involved in EC-funded LLL projects concerned with the quality of Grundtwig networks (GINCO) and of Learning Regions (R3L+) and a KA4 project developing reservoir of best practice in Learning Regions (Eurolocal). He co-ordinates a study of universities and regional engagement (PURE) in 17 regions around the world.

In 2008 he completed two reviews within pan-European projects funded by the EC of training of adult educators in both the UK and Ireland, and of vocational education and training practitioners in these countries. He advised the EC in relation to the development of the new integrated lifelong learning programme and is senior evaluator for the interim review of the programme.

Professor Akpovire Oduaran

Professor Oduaran came into academia as a graduate assistant in 1981. Since then, he has gone through the rungs of the academic ladder becoming a full professor of adult and community education at the University of Benin, Benin City, Nigeria. He was the Head of the Department of Adult Education at that University for five years where he developed academic programmes up to the Master’s degree level before he relocated to the University of Botswana in 1997. At the moment, Professor Oduaran is the Head of the Department of Adult Education at the University of Botswana, Botswana. Professor Oduaran, who is a successful academic in his own right, has been widely published in local and international journals. He is a consulting editor to several international journals in his area of interests.

Professor Oduaran was listed among Who’s Who in the World in 2004 by the Marquis Organisation in the USA. In 2005, the International Biographical Centre, Cambridge, U.K., has similarly listed him among 2000 Outstanding Intellectuals of the 21st Century (3rd Edition). He is a member of several organizations, including the International Consortium for Intergenerational Programs (ICIP), the Community and Adult Education Research Society of Nigeria (CARESON), the Botswana Educational Research Association (BERA), and the Botswana Adult Education Association (BAEA), among numerous others.

Robin Smith

Professor Robin Smith's career spans thirty years as a teacher, examiner, manager, researcher and consultant. He became Professor of Higher Education Development at Anglia Ruskin University in 1995 where he was Pro Vice Chancellor. He was a founder member and Vice Chair of the Universities Vocational Awards Council, and has been a member of various bodies including; the Executive Committee of CVU, the Board of an NTI, SEEC and various FE governing bodies. He is now an Emeritus Professor undertaking development and consultancy activity through his company Arethusa Projects. He is also part-time coordinator ofthe East of England’s Lifelong Learning Network, MOVE. He has a particular interest in all forms of flexible learning, curriculum design and access to Higher and Further Education, especially in the context of vocational education.

Patricia Staaf

Patricia Staaf is head of the Centre for Widening Participation at Malmo University, today Sweden’s eighth largest university of undergraduate studies. Malmo University strives to be a university open to all and makes an effort to attract students that come from a background where university education has not necessarily been part of their tradition. The task of the Centre for Widening Participation is to work with questions related to widening participation both inside and outside the sphere of University. The Centre works within the three main scopes of higher education: education, research and interaction with the surrounding community and it functions as a resource centre for the development and spreading of educational methods in order to meet and make use of the diversity at Malmo University.

Patricia has been developing and working with different projects and programs in the field of widening participation and lifelong learning. These include various introductory courses, complementary courses for students with foreign academic degrees, language support and courses in Swedish and Swedish as a Second Language both on university level and at preparatory and vocational courses. Her own research focuses on how students with Swedish as a second language experience the meeting with the Swedish higher education system and how their second language transforms into a more academic language.

Pamela Percy

Pam Percy has substantial experience in developing, delivering and managing adult and continuing education.  Pam’s work has focussed chiefly on developing innovative approaches to social inclusion in Higher Education. These include programmes for women, minority ethnic groups, people with disabilities, older adults, as well as more specific activities, for example supporting members of the armed services in their transition to civilian life, and developing education for mutual understanding for Catholic and Protestant children and teachers in Northern Ireland. Pam’s research continues the theme of social inclusion, her focus is on the social relations of technology, particularly the exploration of technology as a cultural product. She is the Centre’s Editorial Associate.

Pat Davies

Dr Pat Davies is the Projects Director of the European Universities Continuing Education Network (EUCEN). Since the early days of Access Courses in 1980, she has a record of research and development work in the field of access to higher education and widening participation in the UK and in recent years has developed a particular interest in international comparative studies and analyses of European policy in this area.

She has participated in a number of international projects on APEL and similar topics related to widening participation. As Executive Secretary of EUCEN she was the co-ordinator of a major project funded by the Joint Action programme of the European Commission on the recognition and valuing of learning outside the formal education system: Transfine: Transfer between Formal, Informal and Non-formal Education. This project aimed to examine existing experience of the formal recognition of learning developed through Socrates, Leonardo, Youth and EU research projects and in 5 case study countries. On that basis the project partners designed a European architecture for the transfer and accumulation of learning across the boundaries around the locus and source of learning and across regional and national boundaries.

Erik Nilsson

Director of Education, Municipality of Borkyrka, Sweden.

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CONTINUUM - Centre for Widening Participation Policy Studies  
University of East London  
Docklands Campus  
4-6 University Way  
London E16 2RD
Tel: +44 (0) 208 223 2162
Fax: +44 (0) 208 223 3394
Email: continuum@uel.ac.uk

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