22 SES 03 D, New Perspectives on Student Transition
Lifelong learning is of increasing importance across Europe: enabling people to enter higher education (HE) is thought to be linked with economic success (Lee et al, 2008; Osborne et al, 2004). However, there are many different approaches across Europe to supporting learners into university, particularly learners from non-traditional backgrounds. For example, England and Finland have both national and localised policies to encourage widening participation, while Sweden tends to implement university-level initiatives (Osborne et al, 2004). It would be difficult to develop wider European-level policy on access to university, not least because universities prize their own autonomy (Davies, 2003). However, potential university applicants across Europe face decisions around which institutions they think would be best for them, and need to be supported to develop educational aspirations in line with their potential. This paper presents emerging findings from the High-Potential Learners Project, which focuses on a specific aspect of widening participation: that of high-potential students in institutions with low average attainment at age 18 in England, and the students’ applications to Russell Group (RG) universities (a group of highly selective, prestigious, research-intensive institutions).
There are many able students with high potential who are learning in contexts in which academic excellence and the highest aspirations are not the norm, and who therefore do not necessarily apply to the most prestigious and selective universities. There are a number of dimensions in which the experiences and perceptions of these students may differ from those of their equally able peers in better performing institutions and that hold them back. The High-Potential Learners Project aims to understand the decision making of disadvantaged learners with high potential from different types of institutions with below average attainment.
UCAS (2012) looked retrospectively at university application decisions of students from a range of institutions in England who were predicted at least 3 B grades at A-level. This report identified concerns over the cost of living, self-efficacy, and exposure to others successfully applying to the most selective HE institutions as factors associated with a reduced likelihood of applying to top universities. This suggests that both individual perceptions and social factors are relevant to decisions about university applications. Reay et al (2005) also illustrates the impact of social and economic backgrounds on young people’s choice of university. While the context of this research is uniquely English, particularly in the current climate of increased tuition fees in England, there are many lessons that can be learned about how young people’s aspiration towards HE develop, and can be supported, that are relevant across Europe.
This paper frames the discussion of students’ decision making in terms of: Eccles’ (2009) Expectancy Value Model of Behavioural Choice, to help us consider the ways in students’ sense of self impacts on the development of their aspiration, and their expectations of success; the concept of possible selves (eg Destin and Oyserman, 2010), to help us consider the ways in which young people envisage their futures; and Sen’s (1999, 2010) capabilities approach, to help us conceptualise the ways in which young people’s functional capabilities allow them (or do not allow them) to aspire to and work towards attendance at RG universities.
This paper considers the ways in which young people develop and change their aspirations towards university over the course of their sixth form career. Research questions include:
- What are students’ reasons for wanting to attend university?
- How do students decide which universities to apply for, and how to rank their choices following offers?
- What role does students’ social and cultural capital play in their decisions about university applications and choices, and how do families and institutions support this?
Braun, V. and Clarke, V. (2006) Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3, 77-101. Davies, P. (2003) Widening participation and the European Union: direct action – indirect policy? European Journal of Education, 38 (1), 99-116. Destin, M. and Oyserman, D. (2010) Incentivising education: seeing schoolwork as an investment, not a chore. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46, 846-849. Eccles, J. (2009) Who am I and what am I going to do with my life? Personal and collective identities as motivators of action. Educational Psychologist, 44, 78-89. Lee, M., Thayer, T. and Madyun, N. (2008) The evolution of the European Union’s lifelong learning policies: an institutional learning perspective, Comparative Education, 44(4), 445-463. Osbourne, M, Sandberg, H. and Tuomi, O. (2004) A comparison of developments in university continuing education in Finland, the UK and Sweden. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 23(2), 137-158. Reay, D., David, M. and Ball, S. (2005). Degrees of Choice: Social Class, Race, and Gender in Higher Education. Trentham Books Ltd. Sen, A. (1999) Commodities and Capabilities. Open University Press. Sen, A. (2010) The Idea of Social Justice. Penguin. UCAS (2012). Tracking the Decision-Making of High Achieving Higher Education Applicants. London: BIS.
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