22 SES 12 B, Inclusion and Diversity in Higher Education Settings
a) Research questions and objectives
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. 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 the perspectives of marginalised adult learners, who were Access course students’ in Further Education (FE) Colleges, on their past and present learning experiences and themselves as learners and how these had changed through time and place:
(i) Journeys of transition: Why Access students change their perceptions of themselves and university education (HE).
(ii) Transformation: How Access students develop understandings of themselves as (potentially) competent/successful learners able to access HE.
(iii) The extent to which Access students construe themselves as part of a learning community in particular institutional and policy contexts?
(iv) The impact of online communication on the development of Access students’.
(v) How students’ views of HE in particular policy and economic climates might affect HE recruitment.
b) Theoretical Framework
Central to understanding Access course 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, Wenger, 1998, Holliday, 1999). These identities are grounded in people’s individual histories, personalities and work-related experiences (Busher, 2005) in particular contexts.
The communities that Access students formed amongst themselves can be construed as small cultures within broader constellations of related social entities (Holliday, 1999) where culture is always fluid and imminent (Holliday et al., 2004). Students on the Access courses debated the nature of these communities. This leads to a critique of the theory of communities of practice (Wenger, 1998), the processes of induction to them, the impact of external contexts and powerful peripheral players, such as teachers as hosts (Derrida, 2000) on them and the flows of power in them (Busher et al., 2007). This debate also reveals a deeper critical understanding of the experiences of learning and teaching for marginalised adult learners on Access course in FE Colleges in England.
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