22 SES 09 D, Inclusion and Diversity in Higher Education Settings
Objectives and research questions,
The study reported in part in this paper focused on how economically challenged adult learners on Access to Higher Education (HE) courses in England struggled with institutional and social structures in particular socio-economic circumstances (Foucault, 1977) to attend their courses and pursue the project of the self (Giddens, 1991). Despite the power-invested relationships (Handley et al., 2006) with their tutors and their interactions with each other the students appeared to generate collaborative communities of practice (Lave and Wenger, 1991) on their courses, transforming their identities.
Participants in the study, Access to HE students and their tutors were asked about students’ past and present learning experiences, the transformation of students’ views of themselves as learners during the Access course, relationships between students and tutors, and the impact on their learning of students’ socio-economic contexts including their relationships with their families, friends and fellow students.
Little seems to be known nationally in England and Wales about mature students’ views of their engagement with learning on Access courses and how these influence their transitions to Higher Education and their shifts in identity (Askham, 2008). Yet about 40,000 students join these courses each year, of whom about 50% are successful in gaining access to Higher Education (QAA, 2012). Those studies that have been carried out tend to regard mature or non-standard students as homogenous groups who are socio-economically and culturally disadvantaged (Warmington, 2002) most of whom hold negative memories of earlier compulsory education (Brine and Waller 2004).
Access to HE courses, requiring less than one year of full-time study, provide a unique route into HE for mature learners, often from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. These courses were originally established in the 1970s in England and Wales, to encourage people to return to education who were ‘excluded, delayed or otherwise deterred by a need to qualify for (university) entry in more conventional ways’ (Parry, 1996: 11) in an attempt to redress the balance of educational disadvantage (Jones, 2006: 485). The courses lead to a diploma that is awarded by regional award validating authorities (AVAs) for vocational education which are regulated by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), an agency of central government in England and Wales. They are designed to provide adult learners with generic skills and subject knowledge in a wide range of areas such as nursing and midwifery, social science, arts and humanities and science and technology to prepare students for study at university. They are usually delivered in Further Education (FE) Colleges which generally offer a collaborative ethos or culture focused around values celebrating mature learners (Warmington, 2002).
Yet, widening participation is a contested notion linked in part to social justice and equality of opportunity and in part to strengthening economic prosperity both for individuals and nationally (Burke, 2007). Despite the rhetoric of ‘access to higher education,’ education policy in England increasingly emphasise strengthening the national economy and lessening youth unemployment (BIS, 2012) rather than creating opportunities to broaden student diversity and encourage participation in HE from non-traditional students. These contradictions face governments across Europe, as countries strive to create mass HE to generate high-skilled labour to compete in a global market (Field et al., 2010). Social and political changes in Europe since 2000 are constructing dichotomies between economic competitiveness and social cohesion which are influencing discussions on the nature of HE (Zgaga, 2009).
Askham P (2008) Context and identity: exploring adult learners experiences of higher education, Journal of Further and Higher Education, 32 (1)85-97. Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) (2012) Government response to ‘Students at the heart of the system’ and ‘A new regulatory framework for the HE sector’, Available online at: http://www.bis.gov.uk/assets/biscore/higher-education/docs/g/12-890-government-response-students-and-regulatory-framework-higher-education Brine, J. and Waller, R. (2004) Working class women on an access course: risk, opportunity and (re)constructing identities, Gender and Education, 16 (1) 97-113 Burke, P. J. (2007) Men Accessing Education: Masculinities, Identifications and Widening Participation, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 28(4) 411-424. Corbin, J., and Strauss, A. (2008) Basics of qualitative research : techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory 3rd ed. Los Angeles, Calif. & London : Sage, Field, J., Merrill, B., and Morgan-Klein, N. ‘Researching Higher Education Access, Retention and Drop-Out through a European Biographical Approach: Exploring similarities and differences within a research team’, European Society for Research on the Education of Adults, Sixth European Research Conference, University of Linköping, 23-26 September 2010. Foucault, M. (1977) Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. A. Sheridan, London: Allen Lane Giddens, A. (1991) Modernity and self-identity: Self and society in the late modern age, Cambridge: Polity Press. Handley, K., Sturdy, A., Fincham, R. & Clark, T. (2006) Within and Beyond Communities of Practice: Making Sense of Learning through Participation, Identity and Practice, Journal of Management Studies, 43, 641-653 Jones, K. (2006) Valuing diversity and widening participation: The experiences of Access to Social Work students in further and higher education, Social Work Education, 25 (5), 485-500. Lave, J. and Wenger, E. (1991) Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Miles, M. B, and Huberman, M. (1994) Qualitative Data Analysis: An Expanded Sourcebook, C.A., Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications Inc Parry, G. (1996) Access education in England and Wales 1973–1994: from second chance to third wave, Journal of Access Studies, 11, 10–33. Prosser, J. (2006) Image-based research: a sourcebook for qualitative researchers. London: RoutledgeFalmer Quality Assurance Agency (2012) Access to Higher Education: Key Statistics Warmington. P. (2002) Studenthood as Surrogate Occupation: Access to HE Students' Discursive Production of Commitment, Maturity and Peer Support, Journal of Vocational Education and Training, 54 (4) 583-600. Zgaga, P. (2009) Higher Education and Citizenship: ‘the full range of purposes’ European Educational Research Journal, 8 (2) 175-188.
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