Offenders to University
: Potential routes for offenders to access Higher Education

  • Gordon West

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Business (DBA)


Currently, offender education, in general, is inadequate in supporting offenders to progress to university, succeed in Higher Education (HE) and progress into sustainable employment. In the community the picture is grim regarding offender education with little literature or policy to support academically able offenders to break free of low-level attainment constraints imposed by institutionalised stereotypical support mechanisms. What little exists is focused on low level attainment: a little Maths and English and basic employability support. Probation staff are ill-equipped to support higher ability offenders due to lack of systems, limited educational offer and funding systems and targets that are designed to support short-term crime reduction targets, at the cost of well documented educational needs of offenders. What is not so well documented is that there is a significant minority group of offenders who are capable and could progress to university, if they had support, encouragement and a probation education system that acknowledged that not all offender needs are linked to basic skills and behavioural issues. It is this one size fits all education system that is at the heart of poor attainment, progression and success and this has been repeatedly reported through independent studies from OFSTED. If probation cannot support lower level education attainment above the minimum standards expected by government, what hope is there for higher ability offenders to access support and education to enable them to progress to HE? This study aims to contribute to the policy debate in community based offender education in the UK by answering the central research question of this thesis: How do you design a community based offender education model that incorporates support to access Higher Education? Preliminary aims include exploring alternative delivery and funding models to encourage and support offenders in and into Higher Education. This fresh approach to offender education is aimed at reducing marginalisation and increasing participation in HE. The literature review has been segmented into three chapters. Chapter one explores the current situation of offender education, using the Leitch report as a structure of enquiry. Chapter two progresses onto vocational training, NVQs and unitised accreditation as possible routes for offenders to gain access to higher-level skills. The final chapter of the review explores a possible model for the formation of a self-funding organisation formed for the purpose of supporting offenders towards and throughout their HE journey. This chapter uses literature drawn from corporate university texts and case studies of charitable organisations.There are overlapping themes throughout this document, drawing on a wide scope of literature to determine the benefits to individuals, organisations and society as a whole of the development of an organisation designed to help offenders gain access to support, funding and progression in and into HE. Each chapter of the literature review highlights existing knowledge on the subject area and this has influenced the design of the methodology of this study i.e. stakeholder analysis using case studies.Changes to policies related to funding for higher-level education for offenders, attitudes and perceptions of offender education and ability and support structures to help offenders achieve their true potential are required. The conclusion of this thesis demonstrates that the current offender education system in the UK is inadequate and potentially subjugates those offenders who are capable of progressing to higher education, either due to not knowing how to progress to HE, normally due to intergenerational poor levels of education, or due to having other barriers that need supporting whilst studying for a degree. Higher education is proven to change life aspirations, positively affect health and impact on families and communities for generations. Why not for offenders?
Date of Award1 Nov 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorIan Colville (Supervisor), John Brennan (Supervisor) & Geoffrey Whitty (Supervisor)


  • Higher Education
  • Offender Education
  • Transition to Higher Education
  • Probation
  • Prison Education
  • Reducing Reoffending
  • Leitch Review
  • Wolf Review
  • Further education
  • Barriers to higher education

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