Access to Higher Education for Service leavers and their families need to be improved to ensure they have the best possible chance of establishing successful civilian careers, suggests a new report by Bath Spa University and the Forces in Mind Trust, released today (Thursday 17 November).

Whilst the majority of Service leavers return successfully into civilian life without too many challenges, there are some who need support to enable them to achieve fulfilling careers within the civilian sector.  The Access to Higher Education Diploma (Access Course) is a well-established course, generally delivered locally through Further Education Institutions and provides a non-traditional route into Higher Education. Helping Service Leavers, ex-Service personnel and their spouses to engage with it, supports the whole family’s transition from their Service to civilian life.

The research was commissioned because recurrent, anecdotal evidence from the project’s partner Access Validating Agency, Ascentis, showed a decline in the number of Access course students with a Service background in South West England, a region that hosts c.25% of Britain’s Armed Forces.

The report identifies a number of opportunities to improve the journey to and through Access courses for students, particularly for those from the lower ranks of the Army and for Service spouses from all three Armed Service backgrounds. It offers recommendations for both civilian and military-facing organisations to consider.

Among its findings, the report highlights that:

  • Improvements are needed to the quality and provision of Information, Advice and Guidance relating to Access to Higher Education Diplomas to the general population, not just those connected with the Armed Services;
  • An increase in take-up of Access to Higher Education Diplomas by those who have Served in the Armed Forces is more about the provision of aspirational, informed Career Information Advice and Guidance, than about the structures within which it is delivered; and
  • Provision of a bespoke package of resettlement support for Service spouses would help them into fulfilling civilian careers, it would improve their take-up of Access to Higher Education Diplomas and would act as an acknowledgement of the career sacrifices that many make whilst supporting the military careers of their partners.

This research has been led by Dr Mel Macer, Research Fellow at Bath Spa University’s Institute for Education, and was principally funded by the Forces in Mind Trust, with additional funding from Ascentis and Help for Heroes.

Ray Lock CBE, Chief Executive of FiMT, says: “Employment is one of the most important factors leading to successful transition from military to civilian lives: it enables economic well-being, which in turn contributes to personal health and well-being, housing and positive relationships.  Whilst the Services already do invest a considerable amount in learning, inevitably there will be gaps at transition relating to a lack of direct transferability, or simply not having had the opportunity to fulfil an individual’s learning potential.  The solutions are neither complex, nor are they costly. I therefore lay down a challenge to everyone involved in Access to Higher Education Diplomas: identify what you can do to improve the take up, and then just do it.”

Dr Macer says: “I hope this report will raise awareness about the opportunity that Access to Higher Education Diplomas offer those with a Service background, particularly for Service Leavers from the lower ranks of the Army and for Service spouses from across the three Services and that the recommendations it contains will serve to highlight how their journeys can be better supported, for the benefit of both individuals and their families.”

Ronnie Allen, Head of Career Recovery at Help for Heroes, said: “At Help for Heroes, we are committed to providing the very best support for life to those who have been affected by their military service. Leaving the military as a result of injury or illness can be especially difficult. There are a number of unique and daunting challenges facing our wounded, injured and sick Armed Forces community as they attempt to forge a new life for themselves as a civilian. Often, they find themselves without relevant qualifications for their chosen career outside of the military and that is why access to Higher Education for service leavers needs to be as smooth as possible. We are delighted that the report identifies opportunities to improve the Higher Education journey for service leavers and their spouses.”


Ray Lock and Mel Macer are available for interview.  To arrange, or for a copy of the full report, please contact Kerrie Josephs at The PR Office on or on 0207 284 6941 or 07788 540 924.

About the Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT):

  • FiMT came about from a partnership between the Big Lottery Fund (‘the Fund’), Cobseo (The Confederation of Service Charities) and other charities and organisations. FiMT continues the Fund’s long-standing legacy of support for veterans across the UK with an endowment of £35 million awarded in 2012.  Since 2004 the Fund has given more than £88 million to programmes supporting veterans.
  • The aim of the FiMT is to provide an evidence base which will influence and underpin policy making and service delivery in order to enable ex-Service personnel and their families to lead successful civilian lives.
  • FiMT awards grants (both reactive and proactive) and commissions research along three key themes: Evidence, Innovation and Collaboration.  All work is published to a high standard of reportage to add to the evidence base from which better informed decisions can be made. Read more about those FiMT have helped and reports they have published at the links below:


About Bath Spa University

Bath Spa University is where creative minds meet. Offering a wide range of courses across the arts, sciences, education, social science and business to 7,000 students, the University employs outstanding creative professionals, which support its aim to be a leading educational institution in creativity, culture and enterprise.

Based in stunning countryside just a few minutes from a World Heritage City, Bath Spa University ensures its students graduate as engaged global citizens who are ready for the world of work.

The University’s Institute for Education (IfE) builds upon a long history of teacher training and excellent education research, and teaching at undergraduate and postgraduate level.

The IfE has been educating students, teachers and other education professionals since the 1940s.It is a place where students, teachers, governors, researchers, support staff and everyone interested in education can come together in a community of research and practice.