22 SES 04 A, Inclusion and Diversity in Higher Education Settings
Parallel Paper Session
Research Context and Question
Across Europe, higher education (HE) institutions are being transformed by policy interventions to create mass HE that will satisfy the need of European economies for high-skilled labour (Field et al., 2010) in a global market. Under the Lisbon agreement, the European Union has set out to be ‘the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, sustaining economic growth and greater social cohesion’ (European Commission, 2003, 2 in Brown et al., 2008). To facilitate this, in the UK, Access to HE courses have been transformed. Begun in the early 1980s to give free access to HE for those people from marginalised social groups who traditionally were under-represented in HE, they have become fee charging courses targeting younger people to strengthen the national economy and lessen the impact of high youth unemployment. These more recent policy approaches raise questions about the extent to which marginalised social groups will now be further hindered from enhancing their cultural capital (Bourdieu, 1986) through gaining entry to HE to accredit their learning. Social and political changes in Europe since 2000 are constructing dichotomies between economic competitiveness and social cohesion and the nature of citizenship which are now emerging in discussions on the nature of higher education (Zgaga, 2009).
This study investigates Access students’ understandings of their learning experiences, prior to and during their Access to HE courses, and the complex interactions between their past and present experiences of learning and their future life orientations. It investigates Access students' perspectives on:
(i) The ways in which they change their views on learning and themselves as learners
(ii) Why they seek access to HE after leaving school?
(iii) How their perceptions are affected by changing policy contexts
(iv) What sense of community is constructed amongst learners and tutors on Access to HE courses and whether this encourages their participation in learning
Central to understanding access students’ learning transitions is the interplay between individual agency and identity, circumstance and social structure (Wyn and White, 1998). The construction of identities continues through life (Giddens, 1991) as a social project linked to people's memberships of various communities (Lave and Wenger, 1991). These identities are grounded in people’s individual histories, personalities and work-related experiences (Busher, 2005). However, students are confronted by powerful organisational and cultural structures which challenge their existing personal and work-related identities. Bloomer and Hodkinson (2000) developed notions of learning identity (dispositions) and learning career (positions) which can be used to theorise how Access students’ formative experiences (such as education) can inform their identities and the dispositions they hold towards learning as they move through different social contexts and statuses and, therefore, the transitions that Access students experience through participation in access education. Dispositions not only provide a framework through which individuals can make sense of the world, but can provide opportunities for learners to make sense of their previous experiences, in the present, and inform the development of future action, identity and learning (Lawy, 2000).
Hodkinson, P. and Bloomer, M. (2000) Stokingham sixth form college: institutional culture and dispositions to learning, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 21 (2): 187-202. Bourdieu, P. (1986) Forms of capital, in J. G. Richardson (Ed.) Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education, New York: Greenwood Press. Brown, P. Lauder, H, and Ashton, D. (2008) ‘Globalisation and the Future of the Knowledge Economy’, European Educational Research Journal, 7 (2) Busher, H. (2005) The Project of the other: Developing inclusive learning communities in schools Oxford Review of Education 31 (3): 459–477 Demack, S. (2000) Social class ethnicity and gender variations in GCSE attainment 1988-1995 paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual conference, Cardiff, September 2000 DfEE (1988) The Learning Age, a renaissance for a new Britain, London: The Stationary office. Field, J. Merrill, B., and Morgan-Klein, N. ‘Researching Higher Education Access, Retention and Drop-Out through a European Biographical Approach: Exploring similarities and differences within a research team’, European Society for Research on the Education of Adults, Sixth European Research Conference, University of Linköping, 23-26 September 2010. Giddens, A. (1991) Modernity and self-identity: Self and society in the late modern age, Cambridge: Polity Press. Lave, J and Wenger, E (1991) Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Lawy, R. (2000) Is Jimmy really so different? Learning and making-meaning in work and non-work contexts,’ British Journal of Sociology of Education, 2 (4): 591-604. Reed-Danahay, D. (2005) Locating Bourdieu. Bloomington, IN,: Indiana University Press. Wyn, J. and White, R. (1998) Young people, social problems and Australian youth studies, Journal of Youth Studies 1(1): 23-39. Zgaga, P. (2009) Higher Education and Citizenship: ‘the full range of purposes’ European Educational Research Journal, 8 (2): 175-188.
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