Key Issues from the December 2008 Team Meeting
The literature review is a formative document which is meant to inform the development of the project. Outstanding issues that arise related to the prevailing literature on Access and Retention will be picked up as the project progresses, linked to the developing project research, related back to the original literature review and followed up and analysed in the final project report.
Specific Points from the Literature Review
- Access to What? – there is increasing HE differentiation across all partner countries; there is a need to link this to socio-cultural contexts
- Tinto - importance of:
- expectations – the climate of expectations on campus
- support – especially in the first term
- feed-back – needs to be early and frequent
- involvement – students need to be seen as valued members of university community, especially early/first year
- learning – “students who (actively) learn are students who stay”
- Tinto critique:
- conformist, culturally specific, not transferable
- little/nothing on external (non university) factors and influences, especially for mature students
- Socio-cultural Approaches
- importance of cultural capital, habitus and field
- non-traditional students can be “fish out of water” whereas traditional entrants follow a more predictable, comfortable route into HE, they are “fish in water”
- Institutional habitus – should there be cultural compensation or a more radical approach ie fundamentally change the institutional habitus in the interests of making it more (non-traditional) student-friendly?
- Thomas - key factors for student success/retention: academic preparedness, academic experience, institutional expectations/commitment, academic/social match, finance/employment, university support, family support/commitment
- The student life cycle approach – intervene at different stages: aspiration raising, pre-entry, admissions, 1st term, course development, progression.
Critique: this serves only to amend/control student behaviour rather than change the institution
- Thomas – students tend to drop-out if not valued
- Quinn – drop-out is not just down to the institution but part of wider cultural narrative
- Biographical Research
- provides a more complex understanding of socio-cultural context of learners’ lives
- key factors: structure/agency, gender, class, identity, transitional space
- gendered patterns of access and specific patterns for mature students
- different ‘types’ of student – Germany/Sweden
- Key Factors
- focus on student success
- drop-out is due to: personal problems, lack of integration, dissatisfaction with course/institution, lack of preparedness, wrong choice of course, financial reasons, other opportunities (work, travel etc.)
- Specific Non Traditional Groups
- Low Income – transition to HE involves risk and cost. Impact on studies of doing necessary part-time work
- 1st Generation – impact of social capital: bridging, bonding, linking, imagined
- Black and Ethnic Minority students - can be ‘contingent choosers’, they/parents can have unclear/unrealistic expectations, problems of cultural transition, language
- Mature - family/work commitments and social integration, sporadic commitments, need different measures of success eg success unit-by-unit
- Disabled – importance of HE recognition of disabled identity (UK example), a growing development of ‘Inclusive Practice’
- Ways Forward
- national – statistics, benchmarks, funding for particular projects/institutions
- institutional – outreach, retention team, student charter, specialist support
- first year experience – focus on success, assist student choice, make expectations clear, adequacy of resources
- faculty/departmental initiatives – help foster a strategic approach to learning amongst students, develop a more student-responsive curriculum, develop academic and social engagement, foster active learning
National Statistics on Retention
- OECD statistics: need to be broken down in terms of different methods of calculation
- A possible problem with English/UK data – sometimes difficult to tell whether the data includes England only or England and Wales or England and Wales and Northern Ireland and/ or Scotland.
- Needs to discuss the issue of differentiation within a higher education institution. English partners need to explain the extent and role of higher education in further education and what this means in relation to HE degree programmes and non-traditional students.
- Issues to do with political economy and the employability of students needs to be discussed
- Swedish students – institutions are paid for students entering and leaving successfully
Interviews – arising issues
1. Broad Questions
We are all looking at how students construct themselves in relation to being non-traditional and how they fit in (or not) to the context of HE and how they relate to other students and departments.
Issues of reflexivity – how interviewers construct students’ stories. To what extent are we co-constructing the interview? Are we looking for alternative stories besides the dominant ones? Do we construct non-traditional students as ‘oppressed’ or as ‘winners’.
Difficulty of engaging students in elite institutions.
Interviewing approaches have been a mixture of narrative and interactive / feminist approaches. The latter approach has been used more with younger students in order to prompt them to tell their story.
Need to identify key themes and think about the process. Also need to consider the gender dimension of interviewing and the influence that this has.
There are diversity of approaches within the team due to different academic cultures. There is a need to consider the issue of ethics and share different national and institutional experiences. England, Poland and Spain have used leaflets/information sheets to get students involved. Spain have also started to interview lecturers, partly as a way of accessing students.
Issues of social class are a problem. In post-Communist countries, Poland and East Germany, no-one identifies themselves as working-class
2. Specific partner experiences so far
Ireland – Understanding of what it is like to be a student has changed. The students have struggled a lot initially but seem to be confident and resilient – including adult students. Students want to tell their story.
Sweden and Canterbury – Family support is important.
Poland – At the polytechnics all the people interviewed were men. They wanted questions and answers during the interview rather than giving their narrative. One student has started a forum as a result of being interviewed.
Germany – People have different kinds of habitus so it is difficult to generalise. While they may share the same problems about HEIs their early lives are different. Social class does not appear to be a key issue (for other partners it is) because what their parents did isn’t important.
3. Sensitising Concepts
The use of habitus as a sensitising concept. Goettingen outlined four types of student habitus based on their interviews so far: straight ones, self-realisers, ambitious up-climbers and combinators; and these were also related to the dominant habitus of the university. To do this, the work of Habermas is used to connect different knowledges about different theories
The concept of space was discussed as another sensitising concept. ‘Transitional space’ can be a key concept, using Winnicott’s ideas as these can be applied to HE in terms of students asking who I am, who I was, who I might want to be. It may also lead to anxieties about how others see them.
What are the (psychological and other) resources that people draw on to enable them to cope within HE?
- the availability of good enough transitional spaces to experiment and take risks...as people, with ideas, ways of thinking and being in the world etc. Spaces might be found in a good seminar group, or more informal associations for epiphanal moments.
- via the availability of significant others, like tutors and other students who may, via the transference, represent very important people, linking past with present, emotionally and largely unconsciously. These may be people we admire, who challenge yet we also feel respect and value us; we may feel understood by them and they serve to contain our anxieties and inspire us to try out things.
- there is the role of ‘narrative repertoire’, where students learn new conceptual languages, or cultural capital, and can make sense of themselves and experiences in new ways. Feminism has done this in a major way. The stories people tell themselves and others change, and people find a new legitimacy in the responses and valuing of others.
Other concepts suggested were rites of passage, epiphanies/ turning points, contradictory spaces (where one has been going and where one is going), relational space (in relation to family), geography of education and how students use place and space. For some HE may also be experienced as a safe place and for some a transition from a safe to an unsafe space.
Cultural and Institutional Perspectives
Identifying provisional questions for teachers
- Differences among students? Changes over the last few years in HE – differentiation, different types of students
- How lecturers work with students. How they change their teaching style according to different students, different teaching contexts. How institutional perspectives disciplinary perspectives influence teaching. Conditions of work for lecturers: changes in role (more managerial?), workload
- How lecturers see their university as a whole
- What affects students’ learning in HE?
- What affects students’ outcomes, success or failure in HE?
- How are students supported within HE?
- What affects students drop-out?
NB. Confidentiality and criticality: senior managers may not say what they really think because of issues of confidentiality and because of their position they might not be critical.