22 SES 16 B, Capability and Habitus: Critical perspectives on widening participation, social mobility and student persistence within global higher education settings
Globally, many universities are working towards equity of access amongst learners, striving to ‘widen participation’ to include a greater diversity of participants. One such group are those who have had a break from learning and are returning to education as ‘mature age’ students. The growth in this older cohort has been noted across countries including the UK (Johnes 2014), the United States (NESA 2017) and also, Australia (ABS 2012). However, in many cases whilst the numbers and backgrounds of students attending university have increased, levels of dropout remains high, with low completion rates correlated to contextual and social factors. Within Australia recent government statistics have indicated that students older than 25 are three times more likely to drop out in the first year of study compared to their school-leaver counterparts (Burke 2017). Australia is not alone in such divergence in the rates of persistence, within the UK 12% per cent of older students left university in 2014-15, 5% higher that the attrition rates recorded for younger school age entrants (HEFCE 2017). The reasons for this departure are manifold and relate to the situational contexts, the complexities associated with caring responsibilities, financial issues and also, relational risks often impact negatively on attendance rates (O’ Shea 2018). It is perhaps then not surprising that the literature and research related to older student HE participation is defined as being located within a ‘narrative of disadvantage’ (Woodfield 2011, p. 410). Research indicates that is ‘explicitly or implicitly suggestive of mature students’ experience comparing less well with that of their traditional-entry counterparts…’(Woodfield 2011, p. 91). This presentation focuses on research conducted with older first-in-family students at Australian universities over the last five years. Drawing upon the complementary lenses of Bourdieu (1997) and Sen’s (1999) Capability Approach, this research aimed to contribute to knowledge about how this group both enact success in this environment and also manage the competing demands of home and university. This theoretical framing enables a strengths based understanding of how older students persevere at university and provides a basis for unpacking the interactions that occur between students’ existing capitals and capabilities in relation to their transition into, and engagement with, the university environment. The presentation will also reflect upon how these older learners manage the habitus of the institution and that of the family/community in order to explore notions of ‘habitus dislocation’ and ‘habitus transformation’ (Lehmann 2014).
ABS (2012): Students: Selected Higher Education Statistic. Canberra https://www.education.gov.au/selected-higher-education-statistics-2012-student-data. Bourdieu, P. (1997): The Forms of Capital. In Halsey, Lauder, Brown & Wells (Eds.), Education, Culture and Economy. London: Oxford. Burke, L. (2017): Nation of dropouts: University completion rates drop to a new low. http://www.news.com.au/finance/work/careers/nation-of-dropouts-university-completion-rates-drop-to-a-new-low/news-story/1265f4d9872db263694aaa74f815c432. HEFCE (2017): Briefing: Non-continuation rates: trends and profiles. http://www.hefce.ac.uk/analysis/ncr/. Johnes, J. (2014): Hard Evidence: are more older people going to university?. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/hard-evidence-are-more-older-people-going-to-university-31034. Lehmann, W. (2014): Habitus Transformation and Hidden Injuries: Successful working class university students Sociology of Education, 87(1): 1-15. NCES (2017): Fast Facts: Back to School Statistics. https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=372. O’Shea, S. (2018): Considering the cultural strengths of older first generation university students. In Bell, A., & Santamaria, LJ., (Eds.) Understanding Experiences of First Generation university students: Culturally responsive and sustaining methodologies. UK: Bloomsbury Publishing. Sen, A. (1999): Development as Freedom. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Woodfield, R. (2011): The relationship between age and first destination employability for UK Graduates: Are mature students disadvantaged? Studies in Higher Education, 6(5): 409 – 425.
00. Central Events (Keynotes, EERA-Panel, EERJ Round Table, Invited Sessions)
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