Building Bridges to Success – BTEC Pilot Project

By Dr Mark F Smith (Director of Education – College of Social Science) – Staff Profile

Dr Mark F Smith, Director of Education (College of Social Science) explains why the new Building Bridges to Success – BTEC Pilot Project that focusses on improving the academic success of students who join the University with BTECs is so important to us all at Lincoln.

While BTEC vocational qualifications are broadly praised for having widened access to university over recent years, it is recognised that this brings its challenges to higher education providers, Schools and Colleges. Recent national reports have highlighted that with the growth of students with BTEC qualifications entering into higher education, an imperative for Universities, working in partnerships with Schools and Colleges, will be to strengthen the support for Higher Education practitioners, Secondary Education providers and students.

A recent report by the Social Marketing Foundation showed that increasing numbers of young people are going into higher education with BTECs, and that the increase is particularly pronounced for young people taking a combination of BTECs and A levels. Entry into higher education for those with BTECs is growing particularly fast for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. One in four students (> 100,000) entering university now have a BTEC qualification compared to just under 50,000 less than a decade ago. With acceptance of those with BTECs and a combination of BTECs and A levels increasing rapidly, almost doubling in the last eight years, it is incumbent on universities to ensure equity of academic opportunity

As recently written by Gabriel Huntley, Head of Communications and External Relations at University Alliance (WonkHe, Jan 2018)

Universities must ensure students can succeed regardless of the qualifications they come with, and where university experience is still predominantly designed for students arriving with A-Levels, may need to change practices and processes to ensure BTEC students can succeed”.

Pragmatically, studying for a BTEC differs from that of A-levels: the nature of the curriculum and the associated study skills for example, often based more around practical learning and evaluated on the basis of a portfolio of work, compared with the more academic mode of study for A-levels. Evidence from across the sector, QAA research and more recent work undertaken at the University reveals a more complex picture. A change of learning environment, different expectations of our teaching approaches and assessments, access to a more diverse range of learning resources and services, an increased requirement to engage in self-directed learning outside of formal teaching, and having to make new friends in larger cohort groups, present unique challenges for students entering into higher education. Recognising these and then developing support systems to encourage all to reach their potential bridges the gap.

The Building Bridges to Success Project therefore aims to strengthen these early transitional periods, developing a better sense of how we can work in partnership with students, our colleagues and providers. During the course of this project we will look to explore educational experiences across the Secondary-to-tertiary transition and how this translates to our year one curriculums; look to design, implement and evaluate an evidence-based interventions to address identified issues of assessments, and work with colleagues to develop educational tools that strengthen our awareness of cohort background, diversity, and prior educational curriculum and pedagogic experiences.


For further information on the Building Bridges to Success Project Pilot Project please contact Dr Mark F Smith: Institution Project Lead (