Key Issues from the December 2008 Team Meeting

Literature Review
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

National Statistics on Retention

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?

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

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.

 
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