Key Issues from the May 2009 Team Meeting
Key Progress Issues
- continuing difficulties in gaining access to some more ‘elite’ case study institutions
- in ‘elite’ universities, some students won’t admit that they are non-traditional.
- concerns about the analysis of such a large amount of data.
University of Stockholm - difficult to get young men to participate in interviews. Canterbury Christchurch - some institutions are expressing concern over the sensibility of the data
Universities of Seville and Warwick - some problems due to geographical distance, the need to arrange a day of interviews and students not turning up, mostly younger students.
University of Warwick - accessing drop-outs has been a problem – difficult to contact them, but then most effective way - telephone interviews
National Statistics on Retention
Policy makers tend to use statistics in a particular way to say that everything is OK with retention to serve a national interest.
Every country uses a different formula to calculate drop-out and sometimes there appears to be a vested interested for policy makers not knowing how other countries do it.
Interviews and Analysis
Sensitising concepts to be explored in depth are: habitus and transitional space. Other important concept are time and space and the geography of education.
The approach of the German team was outlined. Norbert Elias used the term configuration in talking about class and how each class is linked to each other in relation to power. At the meta level one can also ask whether there is such a network of academic power (of institutions, lecturers and students). At the upper meta-level need to compare the configurations of different nations in relation to non-traditional students. The habitus of students in relation to study motivation was outlined in relation to a diagram. Several types of students were identified from the data:
Type 1 ‘The straight ones’ – high professional orientation and strategic interest
Type 2 ‘Ambitious up-climbers’ – strategic, cultural and social motivations
Type 3 ‘Self-realisers’ – develops a specific identity but limited resources
Type 4 ‘Combinators’ – tries to combine professional qualifications with specific life world orientation (socio-cultural – which represents the important part of life), uncertain, the most precarious.
Talking about habitus means talking about the body, the body dimension or incorporated routines. If non-traditional students feel unsure of themselves they lack cultural capital (language, knowledge and manners) and haven’t had time to develop it.
This German analysis was seen by some as over-individualistic, not dynamic and too deterministic.
People move into different spaces, eg, university and ask themselves who am I, who have I been, who might I want to be, what do others think of me in this space, what do I think of myself in this space?
This can lead to anxiety. Social and relational factors are important in transitional space and the role of the significant other. The project needs to look at how people can ‘play’ in transitional space.
Interview Case Studies: a comparison
In analysing an in-depth interview case study from each partner, strong consistent emerging themes are student agency in all the stories, personal history, space, risk moments and what keeps students going. The project needs to look further at types of spaces and types of stories.
Many non-traditional students see university in a mythological/ symbolic way. Adult students see it as a special space and place, younger students less so.
Emerging themes arising from interview comparisons to date
- the past running into the future.
- general themes such as agency and diversity in the face of structural issues.
- what kinds of space supports or doesn’t support non-traditional students?
- university as a place for students to re-invent themselves.
- The use of strategic approaches to learning.
There needs to be further work on how to manage analysing the data across countries/partners.
The following themes / issues were identified as a preliminary guide for analysis of the interviews:
- Theoretical issues
- Methodological issues
- Inclusionary / exclusionary factors
- Constructing identity
- Other relevant experiences of research
- Class, gender, ethnicity, age, disability
- Narrative types and forms
- Space, place, time
- Cultural resources that people might bring with them
Institutional Cultures: preliminary findings from staff interviews
Lecturers used different languages, influenced by different disciplinary cultures. The work of Howard Becker is useful for understanding this.
Have looked at the way different staff groups and subject disciplines influence the way people act as gatekeepers. Have identified 5 professional identities:
- ‘The subject oriented’
- ‘The co-operative ones’
Policy makers and senior management are now welcoming non-traditional students. Mass numbers of students is changing the workload and the way that lecturers on the lower scales view their work.
There is at present a political economy within universities which has to be taken account of, in terms of students numbers and retention rates - some institutions are anxious about the outcomes of the research.
One case study university has a very strategic approach to social integration and has a central committee on retention, drop-out and research on widening participation, access etc. which feeds into separate faculty committees.
External Evaluation - key points
- Need to pay attention to cultural and national differences
- The literature review could be used more to inform other aspects of the research such as interviews
- The interview data is rich and there are differences in approaches to interviewing
- Problems of accessing participants
- Policy – how far will this be addressed?
- Debate about meta-narratives – habitus and space – are interesting concepts to use. Themes are beginning to emerge.
- Important to keep the research questions in mind when analysing the data.
Policy Strategies – key questions for consideration
- How far do we value policy-makers?
- How far do we think we can change policy?
The project needs to identify an appropriate audience and identify strategies for policy-makers and lecturers. If we decide to go further with policy-makers we need to address policy-makers at different levels and should go for a long-term perspective. Also need to have clear interventions and to give policy-makers a language.