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AHED – Bath Spa University

Access to Higher Education Diplomas

The journey to and through ‘Access to Higher Education Diplomas’ for adults with a military-affiliated background.

About the project

The Access to Higher Education Diploma (AHED) provides a non-traditional route into Higher Education (HE) for those aged 19 years and over who have few, if any, qualifications to gain entry to HE. AHEDs are popular with career changers.

The questions that this research project set out to answer emerged from queries raised by one of the project’s partners, the Access Validating Agency (AVA), Ascentis. This AVA served a region containing 25% of Britain’s Armed Forces but faced persistent anecdotal evidence that their region was experiencing a decline in the number of AHED students with a military affiliated background.

More information on AHEDs is available on the Access to Higher Education website.

Project goals

The project set out to:

  • Provide a better understanding of the issues that adults with a military-affiliated background face on their journey to and through an AHED
  • Show how these issues may manifest as barriers on this journey
  • Develop recommendations to address any barriers.

The research recommendations inform both civilian-facing and military-facing stakeholders. They seek to reduce the risk of AHED students being disadvantaged by an affiliation with the military – either as a serving member or as a military spouse - thereby contributing to more successful military-civilian transitions for those seeking fulfilling civilian careers through the AHED route.


Funded with generous support from the Forces in Mind Trust, and with additional funding from Ascentis and Help for Heroes.


Commissioned report
  • Macer, M (2016) Understanding the journey to and through 'Access to Higher Education Diplomas' for adults with a Service background. Occasional Paper No.2 from the IfE. Institute for Education, Bath Spa University, Bath (ISBN 9780992633882).
Research papers
  • Macer, M (2018) 'Impact of ‘transition blind spots’ on Access to Higher Education Diploma students with a military background: why filling gaps in Information, Advice and Guidance matters.' Widening Participation and Lifelong Learning, 20 (4). pp. 169-190. 
  • Quality Assurance Agency's Access to HE Forum (2019), Birmingham. Invited by the QAA to present a poster entitled: 'Access to HE Diploma students with a service background'
  • Veterans' Mental Health Conference (2018), King’s College London. Invited to present a poster entitled: ‘Access to Higher Education Diplomas: Supporting transitions from a military to civilian mind-set’
  • British Educational Research Association (2017), University of Brighton. Presentation entitled: ‘Negotiating the journey to and through Access to HE Diplomas: Experiences of adults with a Service background’
  • Forum for Access and Continuing Education (2017), Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Presentation entitled: ‘The journey to and through Access to H.E. Diplomas: Experiences of adults with a Service background’
  • Army Families Federation Research Symposium (2017), London. Poster entitled: ‘A non-traditional route to university for adults with a Service background: The journey to and through ‘Access to Higher Education Diplomas’.
Briefing papers
  • Filling gaps in information, advice and guidance on Access to HE Diplomas: Why it matters for Service Leavers
  • Challenges facing the military spouse Access to HE Diploma student

Project contact

Dr Mel Macer - Bath Spa University

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