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Personal Development Planning in Higher Education: A Gender-neutral Approach? Dr James Moir School of Social & Health Sciences University of Abertay Dundee.

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Presentation on theme: "Personal Development Planning in Higher Education: A Gender-neutral Approach? Dr James Moir School of Social & Health Sciences University of Abertay Dundee."— Presentation transcript:

1 Personal Development Planning in Higher Education: A Gender-neutral Approach? Dr James Moir School of Social & Health Sciences University of Abertay Dundee Scotland, U.K.

2 INTRODUCTION This paper considers the ideological effects of recent person-centred discourse concerning personal development planning (PDP) in higher education On the face of it this discourse seems personally liberating but there are a number of problematic issues that follow on from this inward focus. Whilst PDP may appear gender-neutral it is argued that this is a discursive veneer that covers over the problematic issue of a gender-divided labour market.

3 PDP is now entrenched in policy initiatives in higher education institutions following the Bologna Declaration of 1999 which aims to aims to create a European Higher Education Area by A range of modernizing practices have been adopted at the institutional level in order to regulate the practice of studying, such as generic descriptors, personal development planning and progress files.

4 The European Union Lisbon Treaty of 2007 and European Commission Lisbon Agenda for addressing a globalised knowledge economy aims to enhance graduate employability and competitiveness. Graduates are required to be adaptable, multi-skilled and flexible; able to plan and take charge of their own careers in an age of increasing and rapid change in the workplace. The engine for this is PDP with the aim of providing graduates with the skills required to meet these demands.

5 Whilst this discourse claims to empower students by equipping them with the key skills required to be adaptable and flexible, it also normalizes the notion that coping with labour market demands is an individual responsibility. In higher education this reforming discourse has therefore spawned as set of powerful catchwords such as ‘graduate attributes’, ‘personal development planning’ and ‘employability’ to legitimize the integration of economic purposes into curricula.

6 The first part of this paper considers recent developments in PDP in the U.K. and how this has led to a concern with an instrumental approach to learning. The second part considers work-life balance and the way in which a gender-neutral terminology leaves matters up to individuals and obscures the issue of how this is addressed and targeted more towards women than men in the workplace.

7 PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICES OF PDP WITHIN HE: THE POSITION IN THE U.K. It has been just over ten years since PDP was proposed by the National Commission into Higher Education in the U.K. (The Dearing Report). The discussion of PDP advanced in the report stresses a structured and supported process designed to help students to reflect upon their own learning and to plan for their personal, educational and career development.

8 PDP is often represented as a cyclical process.

9 The basic principles of PDP include the following: goal setting and “action” planning doing (learning through experience with greater awareness) recording (thoughts, ideas, experiences, learning) reviewing (reflections on what has happened) evaluating (judgements about self and own work in terms of what needs to be done to develop/improve/move on).

10 However, whilst such an approach can be enabling for students in their learning there are tensions that emerge with such a focus on the individual student. These are often political issues concerned with matters such as (i) national, institutional or departmental PDP policies; (ii) access to PDP records; (iii) academic or vocationally driven. These are issues which can become dissolved in the instantiation of PDP in terms of the overall focus on the individual and the need to get policy translated into action, and especially via the increasing reliance on VLEs.

11 Others have pointed towards the tensions that arise in the different uses to which PDP is put: Clegg & Bradley (2006) examined varying perceptions of PDP within one institution and propose three ‘ideal types’ that encapsulate the attitude of different subjects/disciplines: Professional (e.g. Teaching) Employment (General Orientation & specific skills) Academic (Metacognitive & subject-specific skills) Ref: Clegg. S. & Bradley, S. (2006) Models of Personal Development Planning; practice and processes British Journal of Educational Research, 32 (1): 57 – 76)

12 These tensions in PDP were drawn out and articulated in interviews conducted with staff and students in the social sciences in one recent study (Moir et al. 2008): Perceptions of Personal Development Planning (PDP) in Sociology and Social Science: The Scottish Higher Education Context. Whilst PDP was almost universally accepted in principle, the perceptions of implementation raise some problematic practical issues. Ref: Moir, J., Di Domenico, C. Veritgans, S. & Sutton, P (2008) Perceptions Personal Development Planning in Sociology and Social Science: The Scottish Higher Education Context. Enhancing Learning in the Social Sciences, 1,

13 PDP has to function as a public policy related to such themes as employability and the development of graduate attributes, as well as something that is private and personal to the student. When considering the discourse of PDP it clear that whilst there is a positive connotation with the notion of personal development, this is not simply about a neutral inner process in isolation but rather is related to wider political and policy related issues.

14 There is often a concern with the notion of individual self-direction and planning, employability, and improving the nature of graduates as future employees in terms of national competitiveness in the face of a globalised knowledge-driven economy. If PDP is viewed as being driven by students then the political dimension dissolves away as they engage in the practicalities of the educational process. Learning the process of PDP becomes the end in itself in an instrumentally-driven fashion.

15 This kind of focus on decision-making in terms of personal development can also be found in the discourse of ‘work-life balance’ in today’s workplace. The use of gender-neutral language in the WLB rhetoric of today’s world of work can lead to the impression that gender stereotypes are no longer a constraining factor, especially for women. There is a view that as far as is reasonable, employers and employees should work together to ensure that family commitments are not sacrificed at the expense of work. WORK-LIFE BALANCE DSCOURSE

16 This discourse of diversity is meant to be open to all and is based upon the view that it is a matter of individual circumstances and choices. The argument that we are all individuals and are all have different circumstances effectively ensures that the pervasive patriarchal models of work are left unchallenged in the background. In doing so, a focus on diversity can actually absolve political and organizational responsibilities for tackling equality of opportunity for women at work.

17 In one of the earliest applications of this approach a study of equal opportunities talk, similarly found a mix of ‘principle versus practice’ discourse with regard to gender and employment opportunities (Wetherell et al. 1987). Supporting equal opportunities in principle provides and ‘ideal’ position whilst talking about (external) practical employment issues (e.g. maternity cover, childcare) to undermines this as the ‘reality’ of matters. Ref: Wetherell, M., Stiven, H. & Potter, J. (1987). Unequal egalitarianism: A preliminary study of discourses concerning gender and employment opportunities. British Journal of Social Psychology, 26,

18 Other discourse analytic (e.g. Stokoe & Smithson, 2001) work has shown how a gender-blind approach to talk about such issues through terms such as ‘flexible working’ and ‘work–life balance’ occludes inequality for women. Participants’ interview accounts routinely followed a ‘gender-neutral’ trajectory but fell back on a ‘generic she’ as the subject of equal opportunity. Ref: E.H. Stokoe and J. Smithson, J. “Making gender relevant: conversation analysis and gender categories in interaction.” Discourse and Society, 12, 2, 243–

19 The use of gender-neutral terms inevitably leads to falling back on the individual as the source of freely made decisions about working hours, parenting and childcare. So long as both women and men construct these ‘decisions’ and ‘choices’ as primarily a matter for women then a gender-neutral language of work-life balance may do little more than preserve the status quo. The rhetoric of WLB is often equated with that of personal choices and decisions. This creates a dichotomy between personal life and career and the notion that this tension requires some resolution.

20 The solution to this is offered in terms of a discourse of individual personal choice and decision-making. Thus, individuals can weigh up matters about attaining a WLB through adjusting their personal lives or the occupational role aspects of their identity. There is less scope to change an occupational role than there is to change personal circumstances and a rhetoric of individualism ensures that the gendered nature of child care is cloaked within a language of personal choice.

21 Conclusion The emergence of a discourse of personal development related to education and the workplace has intensified in recent years. This may appear as a welcome development given the fast-paced and evolving nature of the knowledge economy and the need for a more flexible workforce capable of keeping pace by planning and managing their own learning, developing themselves, and managing their own career.

22 Mass higher education has also come to be regarded as an essential means of meeting the demands of the knowledge economy. Students are urged to engage in PDP in order to make themselves more adaptable and marketable through this process. In tandem with this has been a concern to manage the demands of work and family life, and again this has been placed in the hands of the individual.

23 However, this paper has agued that this largely illusory, and that the psychologisation of these matters has ideological effects. A neo-liberal discourse which stresses individual control, planning and choice is paradoxically related to that of the global knowledge economy requiring the need for a greater focus on the flexibility of individuals. Looking outward to this global knowledge economy is used to justify looking inward through PDP as a means of generating our capacity to change to meet these demands.

24 The implication of this is that gender divided labour market is removed from view as a constraint upon graduate employment, and in particular women, whose career opportunities are, more often than not, limited in comparison to men. This critique is not new in the sense that the individualizing voluntarism of career choice discourse has previously been examined as a normative accountable resource (see Moir, 1993). Ref: Moir, J. (1993) Occupational Career Choices: Accounts & Contradictions In E. Burman & I. Parker (Eds) Discourse Analytic Research: Repertoires and Readings of Texts in Action. London and New York: Routledge.

25 What is new, however, is the way in which PDP and the focus on employability now provides a pedagogic legitimacy for higher education and for regulating student learning and the development of employability skills. There is a hidden curriculum here and it is the way in which the personal has become codified as the means of success, irrespective of wider political matters such a differential opportunities for men and women in the employment market beyond the lecture theatre.


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