The World in our Classrooms – learning from student diversity. Mary Stuart Deputy Vice Chancellor Kingston University. Some Questions. What is student diversity? Is there a difference between a diverse HE system and student diversity? Is student diversity the same as widening participation?
Deputy Vice Chancellor Kingston University
The data clearly shows that student diversity is not a
widespread phenomenon but is evident in particular groups of
institutions. 3 groups of institutions:
Of the top twenty institutions with the highest
proportion of students from minority ethnic
backgrounds only three were outside of
London: Aston, Bradford and Bedfordshire.
Hybridity, …, multidimensional temporalities, the
double inscriptions of colonial and metropolitan times,
the two-way cultural traffic the forms of translation and
transculturation which have characterised the ‘colonial
relation’ from its earliest stages…[is affecting the HE
(Hall S (1996) When was the post colonial? Thinking at the limit. In Chambers I and
Curtis L (eds) The Postcolonial Question London Routledge p251).
Most HEIs have about 5% of their students from occupational status ‘routine
Exceptions are institutions such as Bolton and Wolverhampton who have
around 10% of their students from this group.
Where class differences are more obvious between institutions is at the
other end of the occupational ladder. Russell Group institutions tend to
take students from the very highest social groups:
University of Bristol’s intake in 2004 had 37% of students whose family
background was ‘higher managerial and professional occupations’
University of Cambridge has 41% from this group
University of East London has 4% of its students coming from this
Of 24 only 2 lecturers felt they had not seen student diversity in
their institution (1 in a Russell Group institution and 1 in a 1994
The other 6 from those institutions did feel they had seen an
increase in student diversity and all the other lecturers identified
diversity as a growing feature of their teaching experience over
the last 5 years
Most lecturers were extremely positive about students with physical disabilities in their classrooms:
‘My seminar sessions have included a number of disabled students recently, a deaf student and a wheelchair user. I have found these students to be highly motivated. This has had a positive impact on other students in the class, raising their level of commitment etc.’ (Russell Group institution)
My disability which may appear as a weakness on first judgement has in fact become one of my greatest strengths (CMU student).
Some were positive:
Ethnic and religious diversity has increased significantly and this has had a positive impact in terms of the varied personal and cultural experiences that the students bring to discussions. Needs careful handling sometimes (lecturer: CMU institution, in London)
Others less so:
. Having always been the different one in school, feeling left out sometimes or like you are in the wrong country. I just had a bit of a problem balancing my two different cultures, the African and the European. One of my biggest satisfactions is making my family proud of me, as I come from a great and proud family in Gambia. …The image perpetrated of Africa here in the media and the one I have, is quite different (CMU student).
…to focus solely on the learning experiences of
international students….risks overlooking the needs of
local students from diverse backgrounds, as well as
bypassing the benefits and complexities of both
groups sharing educational experiences (Asmar,
Mature students can change the nature of a cohort and are a big influence in focusing other students in their approaches to study, discipline and conduct in class. They often support younger and less life experienced students (Russell Group).
The presence of mature students who are more serious and dedicated (without having any quantitative evidence) has been a positive and upgrading influence for the other young undergraduates (CMU institution).
Less positive about younger students:
This student was from a ‘traditional’ HE background,
had done A levels at a sixth form college…This
perhaps means that we have to wonder if the issue is
not student diversity but rather that the changes in
schooling and in society are not reflected in the HE
It is easy to conflate the idea of ‘ability’ in the sense of genetically determined IQ, with the lack of awareness and experience of the values, assumptions and practices of HE (Haggis, 2006: 526).
The whole concept of time (and time compression)
has changed dramatically. When one speaks of an
internet year like a ‘dog year’ (i.e., one human year is
equivalent to seven dog or Internet years) this is time
compression at light speed. (22)
…constant connectivity – being in touch with friends
and family at any time and from any place – is of
utmost importance’ (15)
Even the most popular of personal pronouns, the mystical and menacing ‘we’ has lost much of its global public appeal. …which ‘we’ do we mean when we speak of ‘we’?
(Beck U 2006 The Cosmopolitan Vision, Polity Press Cambridge p 70).