Key Issues from the January 2010 Team Meeting
The relevance of Honneth
The Maynooth team have found that their interviewees hold education and the degree qualification in high esteem and they want that esteem. The Maynooth team presented an outline of Honneth’s ideas and theory as they feel it would be helpful in analysing the interviews.
Honneth’s key ideas: He looks at self-esteem as a critical theorist (Frankfurt School). A person develops a sense of self from childhood onwards. The first stage is undertaken by parents. The second stage of this process is to learn self respect from society. The third stage refers to being an adult and the unfinished pursuit of self. He is also interested in the dis-respecting of the institution and not being recognised. This can be linked to the habitus and recognition of being a student, particularly an adult student, and their dispositions . Also links to the concept of learning career.
Habermas is also useful. Raises question of how can HE have a debate that is full of learning, rationality and respect?
Issues arising from preliminary analysis of interviews
Canterbury - students have aspirations to transform their habitus – to be something else, more worthwhile, determination to endure, resilience. The church is also important to many of them as well as significant others.
Stirling – Habitus as a concept is working. Still at an early stage of thinking about transitional space. Students had a clear purpose in coming to university and, as a minimum, ideas about where they wanted to go afterwards. Coming to HE also means leaving something behind. Many love being in HE. Confidence and self-esteem are key issues.
Goettingen - The upclimbers (see key issues 4- Wroclaw) have to differentiate themselves from their parents as they have not been involved in HE. Church is not important – only for one.
Seville – Family support is very important economically etc. The students also talk about their siblings.
Warwick – The students, particularly the adults said they were determined to finish as they didn’t want to go back to what they were before the degree. Some, including younger students had points when they nearly left but kept going. Many of the younger working class students said that they would be returning to live with their family or live in their home town when they finished.
Wroclaw - Polish non-traditional students are not very focused on the curriculum or formal learning processes, at least that is not the key issue - most of them present a strong impression of intensive struggle with everyday life problems and obstacles in order to complete their study - both young and mature. University is a place of transition for them, but not so much as a trigger, they've enrolled as a result of change that has already begun and it is a part of the process - that is what gives them a strength and will to continue, even if it's hard.
Maynooth - Some rich data has emerged from the work and longitudinal aspect of research is working well. The overall cohort is working class and female (both young and old) with a small number of migrants and students with disabilities. Main themes include the importance of family, the experience of respect and disrespect, negative accounts of schooling versus university and clearly differentiated institutional habitus when the case study institutions are compared with each other.
Stockholm – Some students are using Higher education as a temporary parking lot, where they start a course and then change to something else. Drop out is not really a sign of failure, more a way of searching in life. Transitional spaces are very useful for understanding how students form and change identities within their studies. Studying in higher education also seems to be a way of escaping or changing circumstances. From that point of view they have aspirations to transform their habitus.
These reports led into discussion about the idea that habitus transformation is imagined and Quinn’s notion of imaginary social capital. Further issues from group discussions
- need to understand biographical and institutional trajectories and the link between the two
- need to also understand disciplinary trajectories and the habitus of the institution and transitional space
- in between the institutional and biographical can lead to transitional space being a negotiated space.
- need an analytical tool for cultural differences
- what constrains or promotes retention? – motivation to study, vocational aspirations, looking for a better life or an escape from current life. Younger students may drift in. Escape to a better life not so obvious in Sweden where university is not the only route to a well-paid job.
- what keeps students going? – good communications with tutors, some “official” recognition of their abilities, students need to feel that they fit into the university, both academically and socially, self-confidence, style of teaching and learning. Early experiences are crucial, if they are negative, no fit and danger of drop-out.
- need for universities to engage actively with students. However, university is not the only thing in their lives but often universities assume that it is, need to abolish the idea of full-time study?
- transitional space & what it means - the negotiating space between biographical trajectories and institutional and disciplinary trajectories could be considered transitional space.
- the social resources that students draw on: church, family etc
- willingness to break from social networks
- determination to keep going & not to go back
- migration is an issue
Emerging issues so far:
- cross-national issue of data collection – currently it is inadequate. It needs to be more homogeneous for European comparisons
- ability of the EU to think about the unity of Europe but also diversity
- HE is highly differentiated
- students are changing but universities aren’t always changing quickly enough to take account of this
Warwick: At Warwick, the institution’s support system was viewed as an important reason for having a high retention rate (eg, effective personal tutor system). There is a commitment to widening participation but students have to get there on their own merit. Some departments are more committed to this than others. Also a feeling that there are fewer working class students now as admissions is now handled centrally. A few felt that mental health issues are growing amongst students.
At Solent, a strong vocational identity is encouraged, often supported by pro-active work experience. An accessible ‘one stop shop’ is an effective way of engaging with student problems in the first instance – then followed up in faculties. Kingston, a very ethnically diverse university, is conducting research on the impact of a ‘comfort zone’ on different ethnic groups at university which focuses on the interaction of the student and institutional habitus, in particular the social, extra-curricular context of students’ lives at university. As a result of this research, the university strongly encourages the use of mentors and student ambassadors, the development of student volunteering and are working with the Students Union to make sure it is more closely integrated with the university and does not just cater for a certain type of student (eg socially active drinkers).
Canterbury: At Canterbury Christ Church and Greenwich, which have a more managerial system, there is anxiety about the research which can be seen as being part of a surveillance system. Kent University has a programme to work with the community through an ambassador system with 16 year olds and local schools. They also have a value-added programme which identifies students at risk and give them extra academic support.
Wroclaw: No support system for students. Lecturer interviews revealed that they feel that the situation has changed and that there are different approaches to students between the public and private universities - the latter are more aware that there are differences amongst students.
Stockholm: Retention is an important issue as it is linked to finance for universities. Departments are, therefore, keen to keep students. At Stockholm and the other university there are different cultures between departments that are predominantly vocational and predominantly academic. Lecturers are willing to support students if they ask for help. Each department has counsellors. All universities have centres for supporting students. Students are now entering university with lower level skills.
Goettingen: There are no support systems in German universities. Two types of trajectories identified – institutional and subject-oriented
Stirling: The national funding council implements policies for widening access but not on retention. All universities have a disability officer. Stirling as an institution aims to develop different approaches to learning through a modularised system. Students register with the University rather than a department. There is flexibility and choice. There is a Study Advisor system to advise students about module choice although this is now being replaced by a software system. Completion rates are high. There is no policy on retention but some departments are trying to do something on this eg. nursing. Personal relationships between students and staff are strong and this has been stated as a positive thing in some external reports.
Seville: Looked at different types of knowledge, habitus and styles of leadership. The 3 institutions have a fairly similar culture. There is an interest in non-traditional students by policy-makers and lecturers. Some staff, however, feel that some students don’t spend enough time on academic work.
Maynooth: Ireland is currently hit by recession and at the same time is experiencing an increase in population and unemployment. As a result of the latter some people are looking to HE to help their employment prospects. There is some funding available to attract unemployed adults. There are now 12,000 adults in HE. It would be useful to look at the macro level and the demand on HE as a result of the recession. There is a competition for places and the right wing are saying that young people should have priority and the right wing media resents adults being in HE as there are no more jobs for young people.
At an institutional level Maynooth is the most popular university with adults so as a result there is a culture of support. There have been cuts in staffing. There is also a pedagogical gap as lecturers don’t know how to work with adults but also students are making demands on institutions. Staff don’t have the knowledge that students have and make the mistake that they think they know from research rather than lived experience. Trinity in Dublin has an Access programme funded by Goldman Sachs. They have a tutorial system but treat adults the same as younger students. The staff at the Institute of Technology have a higher workload than staff at the other 2 institutions.
Further Issues from group work
Is there a growing system demand across the EU not to fail students?
The macro level impact of the recession - cuts in HE are expected in UK but not in Sweden, where HE is being used to manage unemployment, nor Germany. The impact of the Bologna process and the new drive to entrepreneurship and the lifelong learning agenda in relation to the neo-liberal market. There is a resistance to Bologna and having to change. Useful theoretical perspectives:
- Foucault’s theory of governmentality and how it affects the macro, meso and micro levels – a useful over-arching framework for analysis?
- Goffman’s idea of front and backstage, for example, in relation to assessment processes.
- the work of Becher and institutional cultures and academic tribes.