22 SES 06 D, Inclusion and Diversity in Higher Education Settings
Open university is a form of education in which anyone may participate and in which university-level credits can be earned. The Finnish open university education is a network-like organization where each university organizes open courses alongside degree education. One of the peculiarities of the Finnish open university education is that within this system, it is not possible to graduate with a degree. In order to take a degree, a student has to apply for a student place at one of the universities and be accepted as a regular degree student. This transition may occur either via normal student selection, i.e. taking the entrance examination together with other applicants, or through the so called open university gateway.
The gateway is meant to be open for mature students who have earned the required number of credits with sufficient marks. Successfully completed studies in open university are to be taken as a proof of ability and motivation to carry on the studies and finish the degree. However, this gateway has stayed narrow and the number of people transferred though this route has remained low. (Haltia, 2012.)
This presentation aims to depict and analyze the question why the gateway has remained such a narrow route to a degree despite the political initiatives to widen and reinforce it. The specific question the paper aims to answer is: What kinds of statements universities and other significant actors make concerning the open university gateway and how these arguments shape the idea of open university and the gateway? This has wider implications on how the universities react towards mature students in general and what is the position of adults in higher education.
The study aims to set the question of Finnish open university education and the gateway in the European context. The study draws from the concepts of transition and institutional habitus. Transition focused here is from a status of open university student to a status of degree student via the gateway. Open university student’s position exemplifies peripheral participation to university community, but as a degree student she attains a new identity as a proper student (see, O’Donnell & Tobbell, 2007).
The concept of transition is perceived from an institutional perspective. Universities and other actors set the framework which determines the possibilities and prospects existing for adults. Thus, successful transition is not only something that concerns the student; it also concerns the institution and its practices (Fragoso et al., 2013, p. 74; Bamber & Tett, 2000.) The notion of institutional habitus is useful here, incorporating the idea on how institutional practices shape the relations between individuals and groups. Institutional and individual habituses are typically reinforcing each other, since the student chooses an institution where she feels to ‘fit in’ and respectively, institutions tend to recruit students with certain kinds of qualities. (Reay, Grozier & Clayton, 2010.) Universities and their faculties/departments differ in their institutional habituses and take different positions in relation to adults (Thomas, 2002).
Bamber, J. & Tett, L. (2000) Transforming the learning experiences of non-traditional students: a perspective from higher education. Studies in Continuing Education 22 (1), 57–75. Fragoso, A., Gonçalves, T. Ribeiro, C. M., Monteiro, R., Quintas, H., Bago, J., Fonseca, H. & Santos, L. (2013) The transition of mature students to higher education: Challenging traditional concepts? Studies in the Education of Adults 45 (1), 67–81. Haltia, N. (2012) Yliopiston reunalla. Tutkimus suomalaisen avoimen yliopiston muotoutumisesta [On the edge of university. A study on the shaping of the Finnish open university system; in Finnish]. Annales Universitatis Turkuensis C 352. Kess, P., Hulkko, K., Jussila, M., Kallio, U., Larsen, S., Pohjolainen, T. & Seppälä, K. (2002) Suomen avoin yliopisto. Avoimen yliopisto-opetuksen arviointiraportti [Open university in Finland. The evaluation report of open university education; in Finnish]. Korkeakoulujen arvointineuvoston julkaisuja 6. Helsinki, Finland: Edita. MoEC 2013:2. Ei paikoillanne, vaan valmiit, hep! [Not steady, but ready, go!] Reports of the Ministry of Education and Culture. http://www.minedu.fi/export/sites/default/OPM/Julkaisut/2010/liitteet/tr11.pdf?lang=fi O’Donnell, V. & Tobbell, J. (2007) The transition of adult students to higher education: Legitimate peripheral participation in a community of practice? Adult Education Quarterly 57 (4), 312–328. Reay, D. (2010) ‘Fitting in’ or ‘standing out’: working-class students in UK higher education. British Educational Research Journal 36 (1), 107–124. Thomas, L. (2002) Student retention in higher educaton: the role of institutional habitus. Journal of Educational Policy 17 (4), 423–442. University Act 2009. http://www.finlex.fi/fi/laki/smur/2009/20090558 Williams, J. (1997) The discourse of access: the legitimation of selectivity. In J. Williams (ed.) Negotiating Access to Higher Education. The discourse of selectivity and equity. The Society for Research into Higher Education & Open University Press, 24–46.
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