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The Social Processes of being an Access to HE student in changing policy contexts: Struggles, resistance and reconstruction Nalita James, Hugh Busher,

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Presentation on theme: "The Social Processes of being an Access to HE student in changing policy contexts: Struggles, resistance and reconstruction Nalita James, Hugh Busher,"— Presentation transcript:

1 The Social Processes of being an Access to HE student in changing policy contexts: Struggles, resistance and reconstruction Nalita James, Hugh Busher, Beth Suttill University of Leicester, UK

2 The Opening Doors Project The small scale study on which this paper is based focused on mature students on Access to Higher Education courses in the Social Sciences / Humanities in three Colleges in the East Midlands of England during the academic year 2011-2012. It interrogated the views and experiences of learning of these students and their tutors in order to investigate the nature of Access students' transformations and transitions as learners. This paper discusses why some Access students chose to become Access students after leaving school, often after humiliating experiences as learners in school; the nature and importance of the learning relationships constructed on Access courses; and how some Access students’ perceived the impact of policy contexts on the attractiveness of Access courses and Higher Education. Aug 2012 Opening Doors Project, University of Leicested 2

3 Access Courses Access to HE courses offer economically and socially disadvantaged people a second chance to enter university if they fail to pass other school leaving examinations sufficiently well. Access to HE courses offer a one-year diploma qualification to prepare students for study at university and are aimed at people who would like to study in HE but who left school without the usual qualifications. It is intended to be a course of study aimed at those ‘excluded, delayed or otherwise deterred by a need to qualify for (university) entry in more conventional ways’ (Parry, 1996: 11). recent UK national policy on these courses has shifted from entry being free and inclusive for all adults wishing to enhance their cultural capital (Bourdieu, 1986), to entry privileging younger people, said to improve the national economy, and being dependent on paying fees. Access Courses act as sites of transition for their students’ current position (present identities) to change into their future position (identity trajectories) (O’Donnell and Tobbell, 2007). How Access courses are run can support Access learners, and the complex processes that shape their demand for learning. However, there are very few studies that have examined these issues in any great depth Aug 2012 Opening Doors Project, University of Leicested 3

4 Policy Background Widening educational participation in higher education (HE) in Britain has been viewed as necessary for creating a strong economy (DES, 1987, DfEE, 1998). Studies in Germany (Baumert and Schumer, 2002), New Zealand (Thrupp, 1999) and England and Wales (Demack, 2000) indicate that students' socio-economic status is a key indicator of academic under-achievement and unemployability. UK government policy after 2010 focused on raising the aspirations of young people deemed to have the potential to participate in HE despite their disadvantaged background. This was driven by concerns about the creation of a ‘lost generation’ as the number of young unemployed passed the one million mark in November 2011. However, new UK government policy discourses, such as ‘Investing in Skills for Sustainable Growth’ (DBIS, 2010) and the new regulatory framework (DBIS, 2012) for Further Education (FE), raise questions about the extent to which people from disadvantaged social groups will now be excluded from Access to HE courses Aug 2012 Opening Doors Project, University of Leicested 4

5 Learners’ identities The construction of identities continues through life (Giddens, 1991) as a social project linked to people's memberships of various communities through which they learn what constitutes successful technical and membership practice (Wenger, 1998, Andrews and Lewis 2007). These identities are grounded in people’s individual histories, personalities and work-related experiences (Goodson and Numan, 2002) learners’ identities are fragile and contingent, vulnerable to external changes and pressures as well as to internal revisions (Crossan et al, 2003), always in a state of flux under constant (re) construction (Bloomer and Hodkinson 2000). They can be affected by a number of key personal, interactional and institutional factors (Johnston and Merrill 2009). Returning to education is not the start of a mature student’s learning identity, or even a return to a previous one based on formal, compulsory education, but involves a process of its (re)construction (Brine and Waller, 2004). Studies of mature students have highlighted the centrality of identity to students’ learning experiences (Askham, 2008; Johnston and Merrill, 2009). In transition, the notion of identity is in the foreground because new and strange practices force reconsideration of practice and therefore shifts in identity trajectories (O’Donnell and Tobbell, 2007). Aug 2012 Opening Doors Project, University of Leicested 5

6 Methodology This multi-site case study used a social interactionist framework to investigate mature adult students' perspectives of their changing learning identities through developing relationships with their tutors and with each other during their participation in Access to HE courses. In each of these Colleges there are about 70 full-time Access students and tutors who supervised them of which about 20 students were on Social Science / Humanities courses at the start of the year 2011-2012. the study collected data from about five self-selecting Access students in each College through focus group interviews on three occasions (November, March and May) as well as individual audio diaries with them and individual interviews with their tutors. The qualitative data was audio-recorded, transcribed and analysed manually using a form of thematic analysis which also tried to take account of participants own constructs of themselves and their experiences in particular contexts to shape the interpretation of the data. the findings cannot be generalised to a wider population than its participants, but the themes that emerge raise questions that need to be consider in other similar institutions and courses nationally. Participants gave voluntary informed consent to participate and were aware they could leave the project at any time, which some chose to do. Aug 2012 Opening Doors Project, University of Leicested 6

7 Findings The next few slides present the emergent findings from this study These draw predominantly on the focus groups carried out in Dec 2011, March 2012 and June 2012, as is shown by the dating of the quotations, and report the views of Access to HE course students on the main questions investigated by this paper: o why some people chose to become Access students o the nature and importance of the learning relationships constructed on Access courses; o Access students’ views of the impact of particular policy and social contexts on their choices Aug 2012 Opening Doors Project, University of Leicested 7

8 Choosing to be Access students after leaving school Interest in a subject area/ specific career When I was at secondary school I always wanted to go into psychology, but left sixth form. [did] hairdressing and I still was interested in psychology. I’ve always wanted to do it. So why not just do it? I’m not getting any younger (Coll B Dec) Personal contacts/ reasons / self-fulfilment There’s three reasons I’m going into higher education… to fulfil my own potential and to provide my daughter with stability and [get] a greater pay grade (Coll A Dec) Want to go to HE I want to get a degree. Like all my family’s done it and whatnot and I don’t want to be the one who’s not gone to uni, who’s not done all that. (Coll A Dec) Dislike of current job (opportunities) I’ve chosen to study now because I feel like those jobs are just dead-end jobs really. So I thought maybe it’s about time I started educating now (Coll A Dec) I hit a level where I couldn’t go any further which is why I left because I’d got to supervisor and then you can’t get any further without a degree. (Coll C Dec) Had to choose the Access route [For] a lot of stuff, you need GCSE in Maths and I haven’t. Well I got an E. And I took this by chance (Coll B Dec) No qualifications…Leaving school at fourteen. (Coll C Dec) Aug 2012 Opening Doors Project, University of Leicested 8

9 the importance of relationships on Access courses With tutors The thing is, we’re all adults and they tell us we’re going to treat you like that and they do treat us like that. They’re adults. We’re adults with adult lives (Coll A Dec) [What makes him a good teacher?] Cos he just tells you straight (Coll A Dec) He’s one of the teachers that we can learn lots from (Coll A Dec) And it’s kind of like you can have your laugh and your joke with him, but he’s got this tone about him which is a serious tone (Coll A Dec) Anything you need. Like he’ll manage to answer everyone’s questions and help everyone out (Coll A Dec) the teachers help us out as much as they can (Coll B Dec) You respect your teacher and she gives us the same respect back. She treats you as an individual on the same level as her almost. There’s none of that I’m your teacher. [Here they think] we’re able to succeed. We want you to succeed in your goal as much as you want to succeed (Coll B Dec) There’s no sort of barriers between teacher and student, although there’s mutual respect (Coll B March) I see [tutor] as a teacher, but she’s there for a lot more support than previous teachers have been (Coll B March) Aug 2012 Opening Doors Project, University of Leicested 9

10 the importance of relationships on Access courses With other students: practical help If anyone wants my help … then I don’t mind. I would like their help as well in return. If we work together, like if there’s an assignment that needs to be done … it’ll all get done much quicker than one person struggling on their own (Coll A Dec) Occasionally [use a mobile phone]. If I’ve missed a day and I’m not sure about something (Coll B Dec) And, you know, we all work together. We all help each other out and the teachers help us out as much as they can. It’s nice to be in a learning environment where everyone wants to be there. (Coll B Dec) Advice. Guidance. Moral support. (Coll B March) There’s a lady in IT that was really upset one day and I’d already done the work. So I just sat with her and went through everything (Coll C Dec) I gave someone a lift I think the other day. (Coll C March) Aug 2012 Opening Doors Project, University of Leicested 10

11 the importance of relationships on Access courses With other students: senses of community Like obviously loads of people have got like kids in the class and stuff and, you know, it’s like it’s nice though cos I don’t feel like left out or anything. So I feel a part of the group. (Coll A Dec) Like everyone gets on with each other now. So it’s so much more nicer. I think relationships have grown naturally (Coll A March) It’s good ‘cos you’re all in the same boat. So you can pull together and help each other out (Coll B Dec) it’s nice to be able to talk to some people and as a mother of two kids, you don’t get that at school (Coll B Dec) We’ve sort of got mutual respect. (Coll B March) I like to think there’ll be some kind of social event organised before we all go our separate ways. (Coll B March) There’s definitely a sense of camaraderie (Coll B March) actually it’s been the best learning experience I’ve had … Because of the support, the focus, the group (Coll B March) Aug 2012 Opening Doors Project, University of Leicested 11

12 the importance of relationships on Access courses With other students: scepticism about community We do support each other, but I think like there’s a few individuals who like to just get on with it themselves, like … not interact with the group. They’re just really like bothered about themselves. So I don’t think they really help their like classmates (Coll A Dec) if people are struggling, they aren’t offering enough so they’re having to ask other students or they don’t feel comfortable enough to approach the teacher. They have to come and ask other students. I wouldn’t feel comfortable giving advice (Coll C Dec) It’s difficult, it’s developing…In the sense that everybody’s got, you know, their own responsibilities out of school. So again, time pressure. (Coll C Dec) Probably not as important to us. I think we’re all here for a reason to get a job done. We’ve all got outside pressures. So when you’re here it’s nice. (Coll C Dec) It’s acquaintances probably isn’t it rather than (Coll C Dec) I think everyone does work on their own. You’re right. We all do (Coll C March) Aug 2012 Opening Doors Project, University of Leicested 12

13 the importance of relationships on Access courses With family and friends Like if I’ve got like work to do or anything, they’ll chip in with the like housework or whatever and that so I’ve got a bit more time like that. So they let me like have my time. They’re just nice innit (Coll A Dec) Like my mother-in-law always wants to know have you done your assignment. ‘Have you done this? Have you done that?’ ‘Have you done the UCAS, whatever?’ And looking after the kids. When you need them to do that, they will be there (Coll A Dec) My wife’s a school teacher so she’s given me useful tips ‘cos she just finished uni a few years ago. And my daughter likes it too actually. She tells her teachers I’m at college and different stuff (Coll A Dec) My sister, my husband and my family are quite supportive in some ways and then I do get some negative feedback as well (Coll B June) My son wants to go to university. Keeps on telling everybody his mum’s going to university. My daughter’s not so impressed. She thinks I’m going to neglect her [like I have] doing this Access Course as she puts it (Coll B June) My family and friends have slightly mixed views about me completing the Access course. All are very supportive of me but I don’t think they all understand quite how much pressure I was under (Coll C June) Aug 2012 Opening Doors Project, University of Leicested 13

14 The perceived impact of government policy on Access courses and Higher Education Covering the costs of Access courses I think it was really rubbish to cut the Adult Learning Grant because all of us have had to cut our hours at work. Although it’s only thirty pound a week, that … could pay towards a bill or even pay for the phone bill (Coll B March) Very difficult to juggle working as well as studying. You’re literally working nights …didn’t realise how rough it was going to be (Coll C March) there is no day off in our working week, whether it’s paid work or work at home, we are all working seven days a week (Coll C March) Access course fees Now I’m quite happy to say that it’s been worth five hundred and whatever quid was, six hundred and twenty (Coll B March) I think putting [fees] up, especially when people on the Access Course probably don’t live with their parents and have to sort of earn money. They’ve got other people to provide for. I think it’s a really bad idea (Coll B March) Aug 2012 Opening Doors Project, University of Leicested 14

15 The perceived impact of government policy on Access courses and Higher Education The recession/ lack of employment There is work, absolutely. Very difficult to find. (Coll C March) I thought it’d be easier for me because I’ve held down jobs …no big gaps in employment. I mean since about sixteen I’ve been working so…(Coll C March) university fees About a year ago I was like, ‘Oh I’m not going to university. Why pay that much for an education?’ But … I didn’t want to be on the dole because there are less jobs, especially in comparison to other cities. Most of the jobs is menial (Coll C June) I know it’s nine grand a year which is a fortune, but I mean you don’t have to pay it back till you’re earning £21k or more. So there have been a lot of people say doing social work or something, might not ever pay it back over thirty years. They’re never going to pay it back. So they’ve [government] only helped us in a bad way. I don’t think they meant to, but it’s kind of just half of us aren’t going to pay it back. (Coll C June) Aug 2012 Opening Doors Project, University of Leicested 15

16 Tentative Conclusions Access course students have sophisticated understandings of the impact of economic and policy contexts on their work The importance for success of supportive relationships with competent teachers The importance of a sense of community amongst students, especially through sharing work A gritty determination to do whatever is necessary to pass their Access courses to get to University. Access course students are people who have struggled to achieve academic success but have transformed themselves and their views of themselves as learners. So why is so little help and support being given by central government to these enterprising learners? Aug 2012 Opening Doors Project, University of Leicested 16

17 Opening Doors Project Contacts Nalita James, Centre for Labour Market Studies, University of Leicester, UK, E: nrj7@le.ac.uknrj7@le.ac.uk Hugh Busher, School of Education, University of Leicester, UK, E: hugh.busher@le.ac.ukhugh.busher@le.ac.uk Aug 2012 Opening Doors Project, University of Leicested 17


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