ERG SES G 06, Learning and Education
This paper takes a fresh look at what university delivers, over and above economic advantage and subject knowledge. The benefits of higher education in the UK are often cited in economic terms, such as the finding that graduates command higher salaries than non-graduates (Walker and Zhu, 2013). However, since August 2015, some employers, such as the publisher Penguin Random House, have removed the requirement for applicants to have a degree (Coughlan, 2016). Such moves downplay the significance of a degree in employment terms. Thus the financial gain discourse may quickly become out of date in the future, as monetary advantage may be gained via alternative learning routes such as apprenticeships or on-the-job training.
It, therefore, seems that universities will have to work hard to bolster and promote the ‘student experience’ to encourage students to take their degrees. However, universities are not just under pressure to attract students, but also to retain them, as there are financial penalties on university funding arrangements if students withdraw. It has been found that the main cause of withdrawal is student dissatisfaction (Yorke and Longden, 2004) and so investment in and a focus on the student experience is key to the livelihood, and thus sustainability, of the university. Furthermore, a positive student experience is linked to stronger academic performance. Lizzio et al. (2002) found that positive student perceptions of their learning environment, had a stronger positive correlation with academic outcomes than previous school achievement. Therefore, identifying and enhancing the student experience, perhaps through a focus on personal growth, is an important task for universities in order to maximise their students’ grades. In fact, in 2012, a consortium of 22 UK universities evaluated interventions designed to increase student engagement and thus retention. One of the recommendations was to develop (academic) personal tutor systems to support students’ well-being (Thomas, 2012). However, a challenge may be the status disparity between tutor and student which may inhibit the student from talking freely. Moreover, the tutor may have little expertise or time to give to each student, something which might be overcome by offering the services of an external coach.
Against this national backdrop, higher education policies across Europe, driven by the Bologna Process, have emphasised and tried to standardise subject knowledge gained from degree courses. Since 2009, student-centred learning was incorporated into the agenda of the Bologna Process (European Higher Education Area and Bologna Process, 2017) although the focus of this is on “flexible curricula and individual learning paths” in terms of module choice (European Students’ Union ESU, 2015:21). However, privileging subject knowledge masks ontological concerns such as “the necessary commitment, openness, wonder or passion that are integral to learning, or to taking action more broadly” (Dall’Alba and Barnacle, 2007:681).
Many students expect to undergo personal development at university. De Lourdes Macahdeo et al. (2011) surveyed 13,000 undergraduates in Portugal, the Azores and Madeira and found that the third most common reason to undertake a degree was to change the direction of the students’ lives.
In this paper, the ontological changes that university delivers for the student are explored using coaching as a conduit – a way of channelling and accessing students’ thoughts on personal growth. The coaching conversation, which typically centres on goal setting, values and potential, attuned the students to thinking about such changes and enabled them to be more open and prepared to discuss questions on this topic when interviewed. The paper answers “How do coaching and university contribute to personal growth”? I use an existential philosophical framework to interpret and discuss the students’ experience of personal growth.
Couglan, S. (2016, January 18) Penguin scraps degree requirement, BBC News. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-35343680 on 22 January 2017 Dall’Alba, G. and Barnacle, R. (2007) An ontological turn for higher education, Studies in Higher Education, 32:6, 679-691 De Lourdes Machado, M., Brites, R., Magalhaes, A. and Jose Sa, M. (2011) Satisfaction with Higher Education: critical data for student development, European Journal of Education, 46:3, 415-432 European Higher Education Area and Bologna Process, 2017. Student Centred Learning. Retrieved from http://www.ehea.info/pid34437/student-centred-learning.html accessed on 22 January 2017 Lizzio, A., Wilson, K. & Simons, R. (2002): University students' perceptions of the learning environment & academic outcomes: Implications for theory & practice, Studies in Higher Education, 27:1 Thomas, L. (2012) Building student engagement and belonging in Higher Education at a time of change: a summary of findings and recommendations from the What Works? Student Retention & Success programme, Paul Hamlyn Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.phf.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/What-Works-Summary-report.pdf on 22 January 2017 Walker, I. and Zhu, Y. (2013) The impact of university degrees on the lifecycle of earnings: some further analysis, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, BIS Research Paper No. 112, Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/229498/bis-13-899-the-impact-of-university-degrees-on-the-lifecycle-of-earnings-further-analysis.pdf. on 22 January 2017 Yorke, M. and Longden, B., (2004) Retention and success in Higher Education, Maidenhead: SRHE and Open University Press
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