04 SES 04 A, Reflecting On Access And Equity In Higher Education
The focus for this paper is an empathetic perspective of the cultural experiences of students in higher education. It offers a unique perspective by allowing us to walk in the shoes of the students through insights into their cultural journeys whilst in university and allows us insights into understanding engagement via the cultural context of the classroom. There is a plethora of literature around the international student’s cultural experience but little around the experience of first, second and third-generation migrant students. The paper is an exploration of the cultural dynamic of migrant students’ experience, told through the student voice. It allows educators to consider the complexities of a culturally diverse classroom and perhaps address the issues around engagement through an approach that empowers and offers a co-learner frame. This is achieved through offering narratives of the cultural experience of university through the students’ voices.
Our previous work drew on the experiences of students at two Post-92 universities in London (Bamford et al, 2015, Bamford and Pollard, 2018). Through this piece of work, we identified that students’ culture and prior educational experiences not only shaped their journeys into higher education, but continued to shape and reshape their learning. While the participants within this research comprised both home and international students, a striking number of the home students surveyed identified that they were not native speakers of English (48.3%) and had parents who were not born in the UK (70.3%). These interviewees discussed their lived experience of higher education through their own unique cultural lens providing an insight into cultural backgrounds are intrinsically woven into the fabric of students’ (higher) educational journeys, and the experiences, struggles and barriers that they face throughout their studies.
The ability to thrive, adapt and cope with stress were important attributes not only of students’ transition into university, but also their continued academic success (Cassidy, 2015, and Chung et al, 2017). Cultural differences have been shown to be key aspects not only of this transition, but also in the building of resilience and self-efficacy (Bamford et al, 2015), and research has shown that students can draw on their cultural capital to build resilience and succeed (Crisp et al, 2015).
This earlier research demonstrated a clear need for a more qualitative and in-depth exploration of the students’ voice, so that the individual journeys that students make to the university door and beyond is better understood. By paying more attention to the complex issues that arise around cultural communication in the classroom and around the impact of cultural interactions as part of the learning process, focusing in particular on the experience of first, second and third generation migrant students, a meaningful approach to co-learning can be framed.
This research sits firmly within the existential in terms of its parameters because of its focus on relationships and the link between relationships and learning in a cultural context. It is not a philosophical work, and we have not attempted to enter into a philosophical discussion: or a discussion about multiculturalism, migrants and global cultural shifts but instead we have focused on the student experience of their higher education in a cultural context. The stories that our research uncovered present the ways in which the multitude of complexities in which deeply-held cultural beliefs, values, behaviours, traditions and approaches to others, inform the journey of each individual allowing us to view their higher education experiences through their cultural perspectives.
In order to address our research questions, we drew on data from 20 biographical narrative interviews with students at various stages of their studies including undergraduate, postgraduate and those who have completed their studies in eight different universities, They included both pre and post-92 universities located either in London or the North of England. The intention was not to explore the experience of those who come to this country specifically to study (i.e. those commonly referred to as International Students), but rather to give voice to the experiences of individuals who were first, second or third generation migrants to the UK. Ethical approval was granted through institutional ethics committee as part of a larger project looking at cultural diversity in higher education. As researchers, we were aware of the ethical issues that narrative interviews raise and were cognisant of the importance of relationality and the need for fidelity to the relationships the participants had with other students, academics and with us, as researchers, throughout. Using the frameworks of Jovchelovitch and Bauer (2000), unstructured in-depth interviews were utilised with selected themes and topics. These interviews allowed for an in-depth exploration of the students’ journeys, the key moments in that journey, as well as their perceptions and experiences to date, enabling us to develop a sense of the true obstacles that students face on their educational journey. A narrative approach was chosen as it provides an opportunity to learn through students’ lived experiences (Goodson and Sikes, 2001). Narrative-telling gave insight into students’ past and present, their journeys, together with how relationships and the overcoming of challenges impacted on their academic success. The limitations of a qualitative approach are acknowledged but there was a need to develop an in-depth understanding and collection of rich data in relation to individuals’ cultural experiences which frame the fabric of meaning (Geertz, 1973) for them in educational terms.
Culture, resilience and a sense of ‘family’ were key themes that we identified with all three generations. ‘….look, the course I am not saying it’s smooth sailing. The journey is just like any other journey, bumpy ride, but hey, you’ve got to pick yourself up and brush yourself up and carry on…’ However, what we saw in first generation migrant students was a stronger sense of their cultural identity that gave them a superior sense of resilience and belonging. Second and third generations seemed less secure in their cultural identity when they arrived at university and perhaps this was best articulated by Alisha: ‘… I think because when you’re in an institution there’s always the culture of leave your own culture at home and get immersed in the one here.’ But eventually these students related their tales of adaption and, at the point where the culture of their new ‘home’ the university became as familiar to them as that of their home, that expressed their ability to thrive. Thayer (2000) and Bowl (2001) have also identified the disconnect many students experience between their home and university cultures, and they have suggested that those students who are able to successfully negotiate between these two cultures and develop agency are the students most likely to succeed. The findings suggest that issues of dissonance, belonging and the fabric of meaning are crucial factors for culturally diverse cohorts. The data evidenced the need to focus on the existential parameters of higher education, recognising the potentiality of the heterogeneity of the engagement for individuals, whilst also acknowledging the challenges.
Bamford, J., Djebbour, Y. and Pollard, L., 2015. I'll do this no matter if I have to fight the world!.Journal for Multicultural Education,9(3), pp.140-158. Bamford, J. and Pollard, L. (2018) Developing Relationality and Student Belonging: The Need for Building Cosmopolitan Engagement in Undergraduate Communities.” London Review of Education 16, no. 2: 214–227. Bowl, M. (2001) Experiencing the Barriers: Non-Traditional Students Entering Higher Education. Research Papers in Education 16, no. 2: 141–160. Cassidy, S. (2015) Resilience Building in Students: The Role of Academic Self-Efficacy. Frontiers in Psychology, 6:1781. Chung, E., Turnbull, D. and Chur-Hansen, A., 2017. Differences in resilience between ‘traditional’ and ‘non-traditional’ university students.Active Learning in Higher Education,18(1), pp.77-87. Crisp, G. A. and Nora Taggart, A. (2015) Undergraduate Latina/o Students: A Systematic Review of Research Identifying Factors Contributing to Academic Success Outcomes. Review of Educational Research 85, no. 2 (2015): 249–274. Thayer, P.B. (2000) Retention of Students from First-Generation and Low-Income Backgrounds. The Journal of the Council for Opportunity in Education. Washington, DC: USA. Geertz, C. (1973) The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books. Goodson, I. and Sikes, P. (2001) Life History Research in Educational Settings: Learning from Lives (Doing Qualitative Research in Educational Settings). Buckingham: UK, Open University Press. Jovchelovitch, S. and Bauer, M.W. (2000) Narrative Interviewing[Online]. London: LSE Research Online. Available at: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/2633 [Last acccessed, December 16th 2018].
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