I am a senior lecturer at the Cass School of Education and Communities, University of East London (UEL), with research interests that include a focus on issues in educational (in)equality, from a language perspective, in compulsory and post-compulsory education. I have been employed by UEL for 11 years, initially as an hourly-paid, part-time lecturer. During this time, I gained an MA in Education, and am now a doctoral student and full-time member of academic staff at UEL. I self-identify as a member of a minority ethnic group and find the rich cultural, ethnic and linguistic diversity encountered in the undergraduate and postgraduate students I teach to be one of the most inspiring aspects of my work. Virtually all the students I work with here are committed to their studies and the potential improvement to their lives (and that of their families) that such academic qualifications can confer. They are ambitious and determined to do well in their lives and careers.
So, it is troubling that academic research continues to consistently identify ‘gaps’ in the attainment of minority ethnic learners in education across Europe (Strand, 2008; 2014; PISA, 2015). In the UK, such ‘gaps’, or differential outcomes, extend beyond compulsory education, to university attainment – in the degree classifications that minority ethnic graduates achieve in comparison to white British students – and also in the jobs that minority ethnic graduates secure after University. Recent data and research confirm the persistence of such differential outcomes for minority ethnic students at University (HEFCE, 2014), but do not appear to have engaged meaningfully with minority ethnic students themselves to better understand its causes (Mountford-Zimdars, et al., 2015).
Students who self-identify as British Minority Ethnic (or BME) make up a significant proportion of the undergraduates who study at UEL. Institutional data also points to similar patterns of differential outcomes among this group of students (UEL, 2015).
This research will investigate this phenomenon by gathering information from minority ethnic students themselves, to see what (if any) causes can be identified from their views that might explain these statistically discernible differential outcomes.
Bourdieu’s (1977) theoretical constructs of capital, habitus and field, will be used to examine the university experiences of BME undergraduate students. This information may offer explanations for the ways minority ethnic students behave in events and situations that they encounter in their daily lives that are influenced by their previous experiences of society and education (Reay, et al., 2009).
Bourdieu's constructs have, in recent times, been nuanced by the work of contemporary researchers such as Shah, Dwyer & Modood (2010) and Basit (2012), which engage more relevantly with issues relating to the educational experiences and attainment of minority ethnic learners in contemporary times. Research by Bowl (2004) on non-traditional entrants to higher education will also feature, particularly in the ways she engages Bourdieusian theory with contemporary educational issues and concerns.
It is expected that the conclusions derived from the analysis will offer some insight into the possible explanations for the differential outcomes for minority ethnic students at university.
As a researcher who was once herself a minority ethnic University undergraduate, this issue has particular resonance for me, and the answers I uncover are as relevant to my students’ future success as they are for me – to better understand the then unidentified, unacknowledged influences on my own academic attainment.
Basit, T.N. (2012) ‘My parents have stressed that since I was a kid’: Young minority ethnic British citizens and the phenomenon of aspirational capital. Education, Citizenship & Social Justice, July 2012 (2), pp129-143. Bourdieu, P. & Passeron, J.-C. (1977) Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture. London: Sage Bourdieu (1992) The Logic of Practice. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bowl, M. (2003) Non-traditional entrants to higher education: ‘they talk about people like me’. Stoke-on-Trent: Trentham Books. McClelland, K. (1990) Cumulative disadvantage among the highly ambitious. Sociology of Education, 63(2) pp102 – 121 Mountford-Zimdars, A., Sabri, D., Moore, J., Sanders, J., Jones, S. & Higham, L. (2015) Causes of differences in student outcomes. HEFCE: London Reay, D. (2004) “‘It’s all becoming a habitus’: beyond the habitual use of habitus in educational research.” British Journal of Sociology of Education 25 (4): 431-444. Reay, D., Crozier, G. & Clayton, J. (2009) ‘Strangers in paradise?’: Working class students in elite universities. Sociology 43(6), pp.1103 – 1121. Shah, B., Dwyer, C. & Modood, T. (2010) Explaining educational achievement and career aspirations among young British Pakistanis: Mobilising ‘Ethnic Capital’. Sociology, December 2010, Vol.44 (6), pp1109–1127. Stahl, G. (2013) Habitus disjunctures, reflexivity and white working class boys’ conceptions of status in learner and social identities. Sociological research online 18(3) 2. [Available online at http://www.socresonline.org.uk/18/3/2.html#thorpe2010, accessed 12th August 2015]. Strand, S. (2008) Longitudinal Study of Young People in England. DCSF: London Strand, S (2014) ‘School effects and ethnic, gender and socio-economic gaps in educational achievement at age 11’, Oxford Review of Education. 40(2) 223-245. Sullivan, A. (2002) “Bourdieu and Education: how useful is Bourdieu’s theory for researchers?” The Netherland’s Journal of Social Sciences 38 (2): 144-165
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