Questions of access and participation
In recent years, lifelong learning has re-emerged as a key policy focus at local, national and supranational levels (Nicoll and Edwards 2000). This policy interest has led to questions about who is participating in what types of learning, and how we can best understand issues surrounding access, participation and nonparticipation in greater depth. As well as focusing on participation in lifelong learning broadly, access to higher education has emerged as a key question in a world-wide context as is evident from the contributions to this book. This focuses on not just increasing access to higher education, but widening participation to non-traditional groups. Non-traditional students can be defined as those learners emanating from social groups who do not usually participate in post compulsory education or training. As Thomas (2000) argues, this work should not be premised solely on good intentions, but be supported by research, evaluation and dissemination. This chapter explores some contributions that qualitative research has made to researching access and widening participation. It focuses on qualitative studies which have expanded the conceptual and theoretical frameworks within which to understand these issues.