22 SES 03 C, Inclusion and Diversity in Academia
The contribution tackles the issue of non-traditional students challenging the traditional access routes to higher education institutions and, in doing so, contesting academic cultures of learning. The research question takes up the powerful interplay between, on the one hand, educational decisions to apply to university made by adults holding vocational qualifications and awards, but without the general entry qualification to higher education, and, on the other hand, institutional gate-keeping mechanisms as an expression of a specific academic culture of learning. It asks in what ways such gate-keeping mechanisms are perceived as a hindrance or a help by adult applicants in deciding to enter higher education?
The objective of putting this research question on the agenda is twofold. Firstly, it aims to broaden the scope of existing international research on higher education institutions and non-traditional learners (see e.g. Slowey & Schuetze, 2012; Orr, Gwosć & Netz, 2011; Watson, Hagel & Chesters, 2013) by looking through the lens of individual learners and how they perceive academic gate-keeping procedures. Drawing on the case of Hamburg University, Germany, the research focuses on adults whose decision to attempt to gain access to higher education is a very conscious one. The group of adults in question holds vocational qualifications and awards, but not the common entry qualification to higher education and therefore has to participate in an entrance examination process before being allowed to follow the usual application route for a study place. The entrance examination process serves to ascertain whether prospective students demonstrate an “ability to study” or not. Analysis of this process thus allows an insight into a higher education institution’s understanding of what kind of capabilities and competences apparently are needed to join the academic culture of learning. The second objective, therefore, is to argue that higher education institutions are not governed and framed solely by formal structures and requirements that are, moreover, largely influenced by transnational driving forces like the European level (European Commission / EACEA P9 / Eurydice, 2012) or global agendas of knowledge systems and employability. They are also genuinely shaped by culturally accepted patterns of access, teaching and learning (Schmidt, 2005; Schüßler & Thurnes, 2005), rendering an institution a learning space with social, human, material and symbolic components (Löw, 2001).
The theoretical framework is based on an understanding of educational decisions as being not only subject-bound, justified by individual reasoning and biographically relevant (Miethe, Ecarius & Tervooren, 2014), but being also embedded in questions of equal participation in society, negotiated inter alia by institutional logics of gate-keeping and transition opportunities (Ahmed et al., 2013; Struck, 2001). This theoretical point of view strengthens a perspective on higher education institutions as active and powerful stakeholders in the contested terrain of academic cultures of learning which are far beyond being only passive executors of national and transnational agendas.
Ahmed, S., Pohl, A., Schwanenflügel, L.v., & Stauber, B. (2013) (Eds.). Bildung und Bewältigung im Zeichen von sozialer Ungleichheit. Weinheim & Basel: Beltz Juventa. European Commission/EACEA P9/Eurydice (2012). The European Higher Education Area in 2012: Bologna Process Implementation Report. Brussels: EACEA P9/Eurydice. URL: www.ehea.info/Uploads/%281%29/Bologna%20Process%20Implementation%20Report.pdf (10.01.2016) Löw, M. (2001). Raumsoziologie. Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp. Miethe, I., Ecarius, J., & Tervooren, A. (2014) (Eds.). Bildungsentscheidungen im Lebenslauf. Perspektiven qualitativer Forschung. Opladen u.a.: Barbara Budrich. Orr, D., Gwosć, C., & Netz, N. (2011). Social and Economic Conditions of Student Life in Europe. Synopsis of indicators. Final Report. Eurostudent IV 2008-2011. Bielefeld: WBV. Schmidt, S. J. (2005). Lernen, Wissen, Kompetenz, Kultur. Vorschläge zur Bestimmung von vier Unbekannten. Heidelberg: Carl-Auer. Schüßler, I., & Thurnes, C.M. (2005). Lernkulturen in der Weiterbildung. Bielefeld: WBV. Slowey, M., & Schuetze, H.G. (2012) (Eds.). Global Perspectives on Higher Education and Lifelong Learners. London & New York: Routledge. Strauss, A. & Corbin, J. (1998). Basics of Qualitative Research – Techniques and Procedures for Developing Grounded Theory. London: Sage Publications. Struck, O. (2001). Gatekeeping zwischen Individuum, Organisation und Institution. Zur Bedeutung und Analyse von Gatekeeping am Beispiel von Übergängen im Lebensverlauf. In L. Leisering, R. Müller & K.F. Schumann (Eds.), Institutionen und Lebensläufe im Wandel. Institutionelle Regulierungen von Lebensläufen (pp. 29-54). Weinheim & München: Juventa. Watson, L., Hagel, P., & Chesters, J. (2013). A half-open door: pathways for VET award holders into Australian universities. Adelaide: Commonwealth of Australia.
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