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The Union Learner Journey

An engagement checklist for higher education providers


Unionlearn is committed to opening up a wide range of learning opportunities for union members – whatever their backgrounds or levels of qualification. One of its key roles is to help union members access appropriate learning and to support them as they progress by taking up opportunities to develop skills and gain qualifications at a level to suit them and their plans. As part of its Strategy for Supporting Learners and working in partnership with Aimhigher, the Open University and fdf (Foundation Degree Forward), unionlearn has developed resources to help union representatives, employers, careers advisers and providers to work together to help union members to take up opportunities that may have seemed out of their reach.

This publication was originally written in 2008 with Aimhigher, in response to research findings that suggested that some providers, and some careers information and advice agencies that work with them, were not wholly familiar with the workplace learner market or with the role of unions, union learning representatives and unionlearn in supporting union members to progress to higher learning. This may still be the case. However, unionlearn and its partners have been working through national and regional projects to address this, and greater engagement between unionlearn, unions and HE providers has been achieved. HE providers are achieving the unionlearn Quality Award for their courses, programmes and advice services and we hope that increasing numbers will do so in the future.

This checklist has been revised and updated to help HE providers and union representatives and members to continue to engage successfully. We hope it will be useful to providers embarking on new initiatives, and as a “health check� for existing arrangements. We also hope that the checklist will continue to prompt dialogue between HE providers, unions, unionlearn and its partner organisations so that effective strategies are in place to further support widening participation in HE for union members and successful union learner journeys.

Tom Wilson Director, unionlearn

An engagement checklist for higher education providers 1

Introduction Set against the backdrop of widening participation initiatives, the Leitch Review of Skills (2006), and the likely impact of changing demographics on traditional revenue streams, workplace learners are being increasingly targeted by higher education (HE) providers. There have been significant improvements in workbased and work-related HE provision in the last 10 years, particularly with the introduction and development of Foundation degrees (Fds) and advances in e-learning provision. Some HE providers have a great deal of experience of developing and delivering HE programmes to workplace learners and supporting them in their studies; for many other providers familiarity with the workplace market is less developed. What advice can be offered to HE providers so that they can engage successfully with workplace learners throughout the various stages of the learner’s journey within higher education? What is the key to achieving successful engagement? How can providers make a real difference? What, exactly is the providers’ role and what could providers be doing at each stage of the learner journey? This guide offers some answers to these questions in relation to a key sub-group of workplace learners – learners in the workplace who are also union members.

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Why union learners? The Trades Union Congress (TUC) represents 57 unions with a total membership of over 6 million workers. Included within that membership are 24,000 trained union learning representatives (ULRs). ULRs received statutory recognition in 2002. So what do union learning representatives do? The key statutory functions undertaken by ULRs are set out in the Employment Act 2002:

■■ checking out any practical problems that will get in the way of learning, such as study costs or childcare ■■ helping members decide what to do and make plans

■■ analysing learning or training needs

■■ finding information and signposting

■■ providing information and advice about learning or training matters

■■ brokering with providers such as colleges and setting up learning opportunities

■■ arranging and supporting learning and training

■■ offering continuing support, mentoring and coaching.

■■ consulting the employer about carrying out such activities

Unionlearn has a strategy for supporting learners, including those in higher learning, and has produced a range of publications to help ULRs in this role. Visit to find out more.

■■ preparing to carry out the above activities. Find out more at where you can download the publication Working for Learners: a handbook for unions and their union learning representatives (second edition, November 2009)

Supporting learners ULRs have a key role in informing and supporting learners in the workplace. Their main activities include: ■■ interviewing members, listening, asking questions ■■ identifying and analysing their learning needs

Union learners Unionlearn’s goal is to help unions support 250,000 members a year to access and progress through lifelong learning based on quality standards. This target has nearly been achieved through Union Learning Fund (ULF) projects and through the use of three regional funds.

qualification and 21 per cent A Levels or equivalent Level 3 qualifications. For these members, gaining initial HE qualifications or undertaking programmes for continuing professional development (CPD) is of great interest, and needs to fit with the demands of employment. In many cases, this demand is also in the interests of employers, who need to address workforce development at a higher level in order to be able to compete successfully. Union learners may be considered a special subset of workplace learners in the sense that there is a strong, active and responsive infrastructure in place which, with appropriate development and funding, has the potential to support and underpin effective engagement between union learners and higher education providers. This checklist has been developed to support the role of ULRs in brokering provision and setting up learning opportunities to meet the needs of union learners.

With the help of ULRs, many union learners are gaining skills and qualifications at levels 1, 2 and 3 and want to progress to higher learning. The 57 TUC affiliated unions cover a range of sectors and professions and some 30 per cent of their 6.1 million members in the UK have a degree or equivalent, 15 per cent some other higher level An engagement checklist for higher education providers 3

Unionlearn supporting learners into HE Unions work in a range of ways to help members access higher level opportunities. Unionlearn has a strategy for developing pathways to higher level learning for union learners, and has strategic agreements with AimHigher, the Open University and Foundation Degree Forward to take this forward. Regional projects have been set up in the TUC’s Southern and Eastern and Northern Regions to work with universities to make local opportunities more accessible for union members. Resources and joint arrangements have been created by unionlearn with these partners to help ULRs and other reps:

The Open University Unionlearn is working in partnership with the The Open University (OU) to help support union members in accessing higher level learning opportunities. A key benefit is the OU offer to union members of a 10 per cent discount on fees for OU first-year undergraduate courses that carry 30 and 60 points towards their qualification. As a result of this arrangement more than 1,000 union learners a year claim their discount and are now studying OU courses. Visit the OU website at Members can try free online courses, with support from learning clubs at , or visit the OU Beyond Recession site which offers practical help and suggestions to update skills and knowledge and cope with change at work recession/index.shtml .

A national unionlearn/OU steering group has been established to oversee progress on the key priorities contained in the joint action plan. These include: working with employers and sector skills councils to close skill gaps; developing progression pathways for workforce development; and providing access courses for potential OU students in the union movement. Unionlearn and the OU have also carried out a survey of union members that revealed a high latent demand for higher education opportunities. The OU has achieved the prestigious unionlearn Quality Award. fdf (Foundation Degree Forward) Unionlearn is working with Foundation Degree Forward fdf in championing and supporting work-based progression to higher education. Unionlearn and fdf share a common mission to support the career development of working adults, to raise their aspirations to higher education and help realise them through flexible and work-based learning such as Foundation degrees.

fdf and unionlearn are working together to provide a framework to help encourage and support progression of union members to higher education and raise ULR knowledge and awareness of Foundation degrees. A resource base for advisers has been created at

Aimhigher Aimhigher is a programme run by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) with support from BIS (the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills). The programme particularly focuses on 18- to 30-year-olds from disadvantaged social and economic backgrounds, some minority ethnic groups and people with disabilities. It is about raising their aspirations and attainment so that they gain the academic and vocational qualifications to enter HE. Unionlearn and Aimhigher have worked closely together on a range of projects to help union learners access HE opportunities

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Accessing HE in the workplace

Higher learning training module for ULRs

Unionlearn and fdf are working on a joint project in the TUC’s Southern and Eastern Region to support employer and employee engagement in Foundation degrees and higher level skills development. The project includes arranging discounted opportunities and developing progression agreements with higher education institutions (HEIs).

A TUC Education training module has been developed for ULRs about supporting members into HE, and includes working with providers. Visit higherlearning to find out more.

Higher Level Skills Project A trade union-led initiative to improve higher level skills in the North East has exceeded its targets of getting adults onto Foundation degree courses or their equivalent. As a region, the North East needs to strengthen its economy to align itself with other parts of the UK. Driving up higher level skills is recognised as an important part of achieving that goal. The Higher Level Skills Project, which was started in October 2007 by unionlearn with the Northern TUC, is the first time the trade unions in the region have engaged potential learners in the workplace with higher level skills opportunities. Project workers have been working closely with HEIs in the region.

Publications A range of publications is available from www. , including Supporting Learners into Higher Learning: a toolkit for union reps, which includes a section on working with providers.

The Climbing Frame The new web-based union learning climbing frame includes three relevant themes, Higher Education, Supporting Learners and Personal and Career Development. This was launched in July 2010. Visit for details.

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Unionlearn working with providers: the Quality Award The unionlearn Quality Award is awarded to providers whose programmes and courses meet good practice criteria. The award helps signpost ULRs to providers, including HEIs, that are working successfully and flexibly with unions. Now it is also possible for careers information and advice services to achieve the award. Each year, 250,000 learners are expected to progress through the union route. In order to promote high quality, flexible learning opportunities, unionlearn works closely with providers in the learning world. The unionlearn Quality Award is awarded to providers who demonstrate that union learners are considered in the design, development and delivery of courses, programmes and careers information and advice services.

Benefits for providers

To gain the unionlearn Quality Award, providers must have a robust process for working with unions. The award will be easily recognised by growing numbers of ULRs and union learners as a mark of good practice. Providers achieving the award for their courses, programmes and now for their information and advice services will be included on the unionlearn website which receives over one million visits each month.

■■ signpost union learning representatives to provision

Achieving the unionlearn Quality Award will: ■■ demonstrate that providers meet unionlearn standards ■■ enable them to reach more learners ■■ recognise good practice in working with unions

The unionlearn Quality Award is given for three years and will be reviewed annually. There is no fee involved. Providers must work with a unionlearn assessor to demonstrate good practice and continuous improvement. Visit to find out more and to make contact with a unionlearn assessor. HEIs are invited to apply and increasing numbers are receiving the award.

■■ showcase programmes and courses on the unionlearn website.

Four simple steps to achieving the unionlearn Quality Award There are four stages to achieving the award: ■■ Commitment – apply to unionlearn using a simple online application form. ■■ Development – agree an action plan and gather evidence. ■■ Assessment – match evidence to the standards. ■■ Accreditation – achieve national recognition for your work with unions.

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Essential support for union learners The TUC Midlands Region has identified examples of good practice in supporting union learners entering and participating in HE learning opportunities. The following list may be used by unions in commissioning provision or making referrals to particular HE programmes, and the list underpins both the unionlearn Quality Award and the HE provider checklist. Providers should offer:

■■ pre-course activities to prepare for the HE experience

■■ a named point of contact for union learners

■■ support structures to meet on-course needs, e.g. study skills

■■ promotional materials geared to the needs of workplace union learners ■■ awareness-raising outreach activities with unions and employers ■■ information and advice processes to handle enquiries from ULRs, union learners and employers ■■ bursaries/discounted deals for workplace learners to encourage participation from a wider range of backgrounds

■■ flexible delivery ■■ mechanisms to monitor learner progress, and ongoing liaison with the ULR and employer to address any issues ■■ provision of information on progression pathways ■■ celebrating success / sharing good practice.

■■ accessible information on course offers ■■ an application and registration process that supports union learners ■■ opportunities to recognise prior learning

An engagement checklist for higher education providers 7

The HE provider checklist This was originally developed as part of a national project between unionlearn and Aimhigher and published in 2008. Part of this project was to develop a “route map” of the journey that union learners take when accessing and engaging with higher level learning. The learner journey was broken down into seven stages, which underpin the checklist: 1. Raising awareness 2. Engagement 3. Course choice 4. Application and registration 5. Pre -course 6. Course 7. Post-course

The checklist is intended to be used as a support tool for HE providers to use when engaging with union learners. It may also be used as a health check for providers who are already delivering HE courses and programmes to union learners. Providers will recognise that these are guidance notes and not a hard-and-fast recipe for success – different learners will progress through the journey stages at different rates, with some learners needing more help and support than others. The checklist may be used alongside the criteria for the unionlearn Quality Award to ensure that everything has been done to make provision union-friendly.

database. Providers should ensure that their information is held on the national databases. It is, of course, good practice for HEIs to work with and consult unions about developing the structure, content and delivery of courses and programmes. This is outside the scope of this engagement checklist but would inevitably lead to a positive result when using it! Contact your regional unionlearn manager (contact details are on page16) to discuss ways of working together.

Unionlearn’s partners fdf and the sector skills councils (SSCs) have produced a checklist of questions for learners and their advisers (including ULRs) to use when choosing a work-related route or pathway through HE, to ensure that they are choosing good quality provision which will lead them to their goal. Visit and follow the links for advisers to find the checklist. Learners can search for Foundation degrees at uk/foundationdegrees. Union learners are encouraged to use the unionlearn learning and careers advice service to discuss their plans and choices, either by telephone at 08000 92 91 90 or using the website www.unionlearn. to search for courses using the national An engagement checklist for higher education providers 8

The detailed checklist The Learner Journey Stage 1

Raising awareness

■■ You understand the needs of work-based/union learners and have consulted widely. ■■ You know the local workplace/union market in your patch (both public and private sector) and you are aware of relevant Union Learning Fund (ULF) projects (particularly HE projects aiming to create progression agreements). ■■ You have made contact with the regional unionlearn staff, TUC Education staff and union project workers, and have signed up for email alerts from unionlearn.

■■ You are aware of unions who offer full advice and guidance services to members; you keep them up to date about your provision and have referral arrangements with them. ■■ You engage in awareness-raising outreach activities with unions, ULRs, union learners, your local TUC Education centre and employers, and use these networks to communicate with union learners.

■■ You have a dedicated, named contact and experienced staff who can work with unions and workplace learners. ■■ Your information and promotional materials are adapted for, and accessible to, workplace learners. ■■ Your information is available on the national database used by the Next Step Service, who operate the unionlearn learning and careers advice service. ■■ You have information and advice services, available to part-time and distance learners, to deal with initial enquiries from ULRs, potential union learners and employers, and staff are included in meetings and networks with unions and employers.

An engagement checklist for higher education providers 9

The detailed checklist

The Learner Journey Stage 2


■■ You are putting on a range of promotional activities to engage union learners and promote the benefits of HE, including open days/evenings/weekends, online sessions and input to Learning at Work day and other workplace events. ■■ You are liaising with ULRs, unionlearn and union project managers to use their expertise to develop and co-ordinate promotional activities. ■■ You are making promotional materials available to unions and unionlearn to help to engage learners (e.g. posters, case studies, text for email alerts and newsletters, tailored briefings about specific provision or special offers). ■■ Your website has an access point specifically for workplace learners and features case studies and information about work-based learning opportunities and progression routes. ■■ You are promoting programmes that have achieved the unionlearn Quality Award in prospectuses and other information.

■■ Your information and advice services have achieved the unionlearn Quality Award for careers services. ■■ You collaborate with Aimhigher, Lifelong Learning Networks (LLNs), fdf and others to raise awareness of HE opportunities among workplace learners from non-traditional backgrounds, and to develop progression routes and pathways for them. ■■ You use current and previous HE workplace and union learners as HE champions or ambassadors, and as case studies to encourage others and to demystify HE. ■■ You are offering training opportunities / briefing sessions / support activities for ULRs, project managers and unionlearn staff. ■■ You offer bursaries and advice about funding to support learners and to encourage those from nontraditional backgrounds and disadvantaged groups. ■■ You offer discounted deals and progression agreements to union learners to help grow this market.

■■ Your information and advice services are geared up to deal with detailed enquiries from union learners and ULRs, are available to part-time and distance learners, and you work together with unions to ensure that learners have accurate and current information.

An engagement checklist for higher education providers 10

The detailed checklist

The Learner Journey Stage 3

Course choice

■■ You are making available easily accessible and customised forms of information about the programmes on offer that might interest union learners, and which tell them exactly what to expect and how learning will fit with work. ■■ Your information and advice services and diagnostic processes are geared up to help union learners to select programmes appropriate to their individual circumstances and situations and to workplace study. ■■ Your information and advice staff are aware of the different routes and pathways through HE available to workplace learners, and of programmes that are suitable for work-based study. ■■ You are aware of and promote the unionlearn learning and careers advice service which offers an impartial service to union learners and reps by telephone and email.

■■ You have systems in place to identify particular workplace requirements or preferences that could feed into programme development. ■■ You offer modular programmes with flexible and adaptable content and pace to meet the needs of workplace learners. ■■ You have involved unions and employers in developing programmes such as Foundation degrees, and in agreeing content, methodology and progression routes. ■■ You offer specialist programmes (e.g. in health or education) and ensure that these relate to local or sectoral priorities. ■■ You have achieved the unionlearn Quality Award for courses, programmes and advice services to ensure that learners know that these are guaranteed unionfriendly.

■■ You know about the union learning Climbing Frame, which may be used by ULRs to help members to plan and monitor their progress. ■■ Your staff can offer information and taster sessions to help union learners make choices, both at accessible times and in workplaces.

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The detailed checklist

The Learner Journey Stage 4

Application and registration

■■ You offer a service to help union learners with their applications and course registration. ■■ You provide opportunities to recognise prior learning and experience (APEL), and provide a service to assist workplace learners to identify ways in which they can meet entry requirements and present information about themselves. ■■ You offer assistance in accessing different forms of learner support (for example, resources for disabled learners). ■■ You offer assistance with funding applications. ■■ The service is geared up to support union learning reps to assist union learners with all of the above in the workplace. ■■ You have an outreach worker to help union learners with their applications, course registration and funding applications. ■■ The service meets different learner preferences for contact (e.g. telephone, online, face-to-face, group sessions).

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The detailed checklist

The Learner Journey Stage 5


■■ You offer a range of pre-course activities to help union learners prepare for their HE experience and their chosen programme. ■■ Learners and ULRs have pre-course access to: further information, advice and guidance; dedicated programme staff; support staff; mature student mentors. ■■ Support materials and sessions are provided (e.g. pre-course study packs, preparatory precourse modules and general study skills sessions/ packages). ■■ You have liaised with union learning reps, unionlearn project workers and employers to consider, develop and organise appropriate support structures to meet the needs of union learners (for example: study skills workshops; peer support initiatives; mentoring initiatives; virtual forums; union learning clubs). ■■ You use various feedback channels (e.g. from prospective union learners, union learning reps, careers advisers, unionlearn, unions, Aimhigher, Lifelong Learning Networks) to listen out for particular study skills and support needs of learners or preferences and have mechanisms in place for addressing any gaps in provision.

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The detailed checklist

The Learner Journey Stage 6

On course

■■ Your course and programme delivery mechanisms are flexible and meet the needs of workplace and union learners. ■■ Your courses and programmes have been designed in consultation with employers, SSCs and unions to ensure that the content and delivery is appropriate for workplace/union learners. ■■ You have achieved the unionlearn Quality Award for your courses, programmes and advice services. ■■ You provide learner induction for workplace, parttime and distance learners.

■■ You are using your network links with union learners, union learning reps, careers advisers, unionlearn, unions, Aimhigher, and Lifelong Learning Networks to evaluate and fine-tune course delivery and learner support. ■■ You have set up mechanisms to monitor learner progress (e.g. completion of assignments and review of individual learning plans). ■■ You are liaising with union learning reps, project workers, and employers to address any individual or collective difficulties.

■■ You offer a range of support structures to meet the different on-course needs of union learners, including part-time or distance learners (e.g. virtual libraries and forums; opportunities for tutor contact; study skills support including special sessions, packs and toolkits, online modules; outreach support through union learning clubs; peer support and mentoring; and support for learners with additional needs (dyslexia, disability). ■■ Learners are aware of the support on offer and how to access it.

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The detailed checklist

The Learner Journey Stage 7


■■ You provide learners and union learning reps with information about possible progression pathways. ■■ You offer information, advice and guidance to learners about what to do next and these services are available to part-time and distance learners. ■■ You liaise with union learning reps, project workers and employers to celebrate learner successes (through award ceremonies, certificates, and success stories). ■■ You reflect on learners’ progress and experiences and use your network links with union learning reps, careers advisers, outreach workers, unionlearn, unions and employers, LLNs and Aimhigher to evaluate and further develop good practice. ■■ You liaise with union learning reps and draw on the successful experiences of union learners for case study material and “champion” lists to encourage other potential workplace learners to participate in higher level learning.

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Contact points National unionlearn contact: Ian Borkett unionlearn Standards and Quality Manager Email:

Regional unionlearn contacts: Midlands


North West

Southern & Eastern

South West

Yorkshire & the Humber

Regional Manager

Regional Manager

Regional Manager

Regional Manager

Regional Manager

Regional Manager

Mary Alys 0121 262 6387

Elizabeth Killoran 0191 227 5552

Dave Eva 0151 243 2556

Barry Francis 020 7467 1209

Helen Cole 0117 933 4436

Alan Roe 0113 242 9296

Regional Union Development Co-ordinator

Regional Union Development Co-ordinator

Regional Union Development Co-ordinator

Regional Union Development Co-ordinator

Regional Union Development Co-ordinator

Regional Union Development Co-ordinator

Gary O’Donnell 0121 262 6393

Beth Farhat 0191 227 5576

Tony Saunders 0151 236 2574

Jon Tennison 020 7467 1212

Ros Etheridge 0117 947 0521

Sharon Burke 0113 200 1073

Regional Education Officer

Regional Education Officer

Regional Education Officer

Regional Education Officer

Regional Education Officer

Regional Education Officer

Pete Try 0121 236 4454

Ian West 0191 232 3175

Pete Holland 0151 236 7678

Rob Hancock 020 7467 1369

Marie Hughes 0117 947 0521

Trevor Sargison 0113 242 9296

Theresa Daley 020 7467 1238 An engagement checklist for higher education providers 16

Published by Trades Union Congress Congress House London WC1B 3LS Tel 020 7636 4030

Design by Rumba September 2010

Engagement checklist for Higher Education providers  

What is the key to achieving successful engagement? How can providers make a real difference? What, exactly is the providers’ role? What cou...

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