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Q&A with QAA’s Julie Mizon

By Sally Howard, Moderation Manager

The Access to Higher Education (HE) Diploma is a second chance at education. The qualification gives learners the ability to study on a subject specific pathway to university, making it perfect for those who want to restudy and change career or for people who don’t have the grades needed to apply for university in their previous time in education.

As an Access Validating Agency (AVA) offering Access to Higher Education qualifications we work with QAA (The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education) to ensure that these qualifications are fit for purpose. The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education is the independent body that checks on standards and quality in UK higher education. It conducts quality assessment reviews, develops reference points and guidance for AVAs (like AIM Qualifications and Assessment Group), and conducts or commissions research on relevant issues.

Recently our Moderation Manager, Sally Howard, sat down virtually with QAA’s Access to HE Manager, Julie Mizon for a Q&A session about her experience with Access to HE and the benefits of the qualification.

What is your role at QAA?

“As Access Manager at QAA my role is to manage and oversee QAA’s responsibilities for the Recognition Scheme for Access to HE. In other words, I oversee and manage the Access to Higher Education (HE) qualification including developing policies and systems to monitor and maintain national standards for the Access to HE Diploma.

In addition I:

  • manage the operation of the Access Validating Agencies (AVA) licensing and review methods.
  • oversee the collection and publication of statistical data about Access to HE, and work with external agencies. 
  • oversee the development of guidance and regulatory documentation relating to Access to HE for providers, AVAs and Higher Education Institutes.
  • manage and advise the Access Recognition and Licensing Committee (ARLC) and its sub-groups, taking forward actions.
  • plan and organise all external-facing QAA Access to HE events.

Obviously I cannot do this role without the support of Ann-marie Karadia (Access Officer) and our business support staff at QAA.“
 

How did you first become involved in Access to Higher Education?

“My teaching career started in the 1990s and my very first teaching job, post PGCE, was teaching Access to HE. I actually was interviewed for a job teaching A levels, but was offered this role instead. This was at a time when it was an Access to HE certificate, rather than Diploma. Obviously, it can be quite daunting when you teach other adults for the first time and some students did question whether I was old enough to teach at the time! That would not be an issue now.

What I took away from this first experience of teaching Access to HE is the impact that such a course could have on students, not only on the opportunities for progression but more importantly about how it changed them as a person. I think once you have taught Access to HE it certainly holds a part of your heart!

I worked at the college for just over 20 years and in my final role of Assistant principal, I was able to still teach Access to HE classes, where needed. On leaving the college, I went to work for an Access Validating Agency. This gave me the valuable experience of the ‘ins and outs’ of developing, quality assuring and awarding the Diploma.

Last but very much not least, it then led to my current role which involves the regulation of the Diploma. I would say my career journey has allowed me to better understand this Diploma and I feel very fortunate now when I look back that I was offered the role to teach Access to Higher Education.”

 

What does Access to HE mean to you?

“It is quite a challenge to put in words what Access to HE means to me. I would say it is more of a feeling of recognition for the opportunities that this qualification offers.

Special is a word I hear very often associated with the Access to HE Diploma.

The Diploma in one form or another started life over 40 years ago. This qualification was designed by members of higher education institutes looking to support adults previously ineligible to enter higher education because of a lack of traditional qualifications. Fast-forward 40 years and the qualification continues to provide opportunities for adults to progress to higher study.“ 

 

We often refer to the “magic” that Access to HE has, and the amazing journey learners go on during their course, what makes the Diploma “magic” to you?

“Great question. What makes Access to HE magic to me is that this qualification can change lives. A student entering university via this route is more than twice as likely to be over 25 and from a disadvantaged background as a student entering with other qualifications.

It not only can change the life of the student it can also change the lives of their family. It is quite a magical qualification isn’t it?”

 

What do you think are the greatest benefits of studying an Access to HE Diploma?

“The greatest benefit is very much that it can be life-changing! A student can acquire the knowledge, skills and behaviours to support them in transitioning into higher education. 

At the heart of this qualification is flexibility, widening participation and responsiveness: 

  • The flexibility of this qualification supports the mission of further education to be responsive to the needs of local communities, whilst contributing to skills formation in key occupational areas. 
  • Access to HE Diplomas have been designed to be responsive to changes in circumstances. Something that we have observed during the pandemic.
  • The Diploma provides a cost-effective way to support the widening participation agenda. You will be aware that In England, Access to HE is a qualification where, on successful completion of higher study, the balance of any Advanced Learner Loan taken out to pay tuition fees is written off by the Student Loan Company.”
     

If you were to study an Access Diploma with AIM, which one would you pick and why?

“Now this is a difficult one as there are lots that I could choose, but I will say the Access to HE Diploma in Early Years Education. I would choose this course because I now have a granddaughter who is in school and this would certainly help me to be part of her educational journey.”
 

If you could change one thing about the Access to Higher Education Diploma what would it be?

“Wow! Tough one this. I would say it’s visibility. It would be fantastic to get to a point where everyone knows what an Access to HE Diploma is and more importantly understand its value.” 
 

What do you think AIM do really well with the Diploma?

“There are many things that AVAs do really well. They develop, quality assure and award a qualification that meets local as well as national skills needs and therefore aid social mobility. The Access to HE Diploma plays a key role in widening participation in HE for under-represented groups and AVAs are there to support its role.” 


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