http://www.sussex.ac.uk/education/cheer Validating and supporting non-traditional student experience Insights from research with lone mother HE students Dr Tamsin Hinton-Smith Department of Sociology
Lone parents’ experiences as Higher Education students: A longitudinal qualitative email study • Researched 79 lone parents studying at UK HEIs • Range of demographic and study variables • Participants researched longitudinally throughout one academic year • Fortnightly open-ended qualitative email prompts addressed areas of academic and family life from debt, to relationships, to health (Reinharz, 1992)
Mikki, age 39, two children aged 8 and 14, Year 1 BSc Occupational Therapy: October: I started University on the 20th of September of this year. I found the Induction week to be terrible. I felt very concerned that I had chosen the wrong course. I felt like I was being bombarded with information overload. It was a very traumatic time. I continued to feel terrible and just wanted to give it up. The course is very intense and the course is taught by PBL [problem-based learning] and practice placement and also reflective learning. These are all new to me. June: Your timing was just right, the reason for the delay in replying to your e-mail was that I had two assignments and a viva to revise for. Ha Ha. One of the assignments I had started in advance and was fairly confident but then had a viva to revise for and assignment due the day after, which was quite hard going as it is also half term for both children. I feel fairly confident in writing my assignment now and also with the viva, but I have had to put everything and everyone on hold.
Dan: Not quite as much of a relaxed feel to it. Besides, I know it seems in a way kind of… kind of pompous or… you feel like you have to be a higher standard once you’re in there.Facilitator: Who do you think art galleries and museums are for?Dan: Sometimes… you generally link like specifically art museums and art galleries to posher people.Tom: Oh, yes.Dan: You see an art gallery and you see all these pompousy , posh people, like, all walking around, and doesn’t really fit in with, like, normal people like us…
The ‘Bachelor boy’ ideal of HE participation Rosalind Edwards (1993) Mature women students:Separating or Connecting Family and Education. ‘I think there is a strange attitude that combines a ‘well done’ attitude with a ‘but don’t think we will make any allowances because you knew what you were taking on’ attitude.’ (Bex, age 34, one child aged 12, MA Primary Education with QTS) ‘Money is definitely the biggest threat to me completing my degree and definitely the thing that worries me most. It is often a case of not knowing how on earth you are going to pay for the things that crop up.’ (Andrea, age 23, one child aged 1, Year 2 BA Development Studies)
Despite rising overall HE participation levels: • Those with strongest FE qualifications get best results at university. • Universities recruit the easiest, then searching for the rest • Government criticised for not valuing non-traditional students (Jones, 2006) • Non-traditional students ‘tolerated rather than prized’ (Woodley and Wilson, 2002) • Most valued applicants receive multiple offers, while non-traditional applicants may be lucky to receive a single offer • University as ‘certifying’ students from privileged back -grounds for privileged social and occupation positions
Access and participation • Developing focus: From access to participation • BME student experience: • participation from 14.9% in 2003/04 to 18.1% in 2009/10 • But attainment gap from 17.2% in 2003/04 to 18.6% in 2009/10 • WP students and location in a stratified HE market • Ball et al: a ‘complex interplay of social factors that are underpinned by basic social class (2002: 53). • Student choice and choice of student • WP students and supporting retention • The importance of intersectionality Equality Challenge Unit (2011) Equality in higher education: Statistical report.
‘As I've grown older, I've noticed that being female, Black and single, I appear to be somewhere near the bottom of the rung in society. At the top of the hierarchy are white, middle-class men. White women come below that, and black women even lower.’ (Beatrice, age 31, one child aged 8, Year 3 BA Primary Education)
What is needed? • Not to abandon WP • Levin, 1976: • Equality of access • Participation • Results • Effects on life chances • Reaching behind and beyond moment of access: • Induction, On-going support, Study skills, Personal and career development, Retention, Degree outcomes, Career progression. • School outreach work including children, teachers and parents
Robust support for all ‘The problem is that there is no institutional setup to inform them of these matters, unlike my last uni where the staff all knew or asked in the first few weeks to find out everyone's circumstances, it was openly dealt with. It is very difficult to have to inform people without sounding like you are asking for special treatment and in my case it has taken almost 2 terms to do so. As students at [this university] tend to be wealthy (and not parents) the staff are simply not aware of the need to manage these situations. They need some form of training!’ (Michelle, age 35, one child aged 12, MSc History of Science)
Institutional cultures affect students and staff • Mentoring and career development support • Support for those on/returning from parental leave • ‘Student focused’ approach - student support, progress feedback, peer mentoring, low staff-student ratios • Flexible learning - part-time, contact time, online provision, distance learning • Franchising – local, and educational cultures more attuned to the needs of non-traditional students
Tackling elite cultures • The relevance of the social model of disability (e.g. Barnes and Mercer, 2004) • Elite HEIs have furthest to travel • Culture at ‘best’ universities often seen as intrinsically white and middle-class (Reay 2003) • Social class as the ‘elephant in the room’
‘I do have the feeling that more traditional (and prestigious) institutions like […] cater less for the needs of students with different backgrounds. I might be wrong, but this is what I think. I know they have a lot of initiatives for widening participation, which is good, but there is little support for students who are parents. I know I have already told you about the nursery, but I just want to mention it again as I think good, affordable and flexible childcare is so important. And if the university can't provide it they should be better at helping students out in finding the information and facilities that they need.’ (Carys, age 31, one child aged 1, Year 2 PhD Sociology)
Looking to the future • Supporting the specific needs of groups of non-traditional students • International context and demographic downturn • Developments within the sector – Private Universities (MacLachlan, 2012) and fees (Taylor, 2007) • HE as ‘a critical determinant of life chances’ (Naidoo and Callender, 2000). • Effective policy and results, and sharing good practice
References Ball, S., Davies, J., David, M. & Reay, D. (2002) 'Classification' and 'Judgement': Social class and the 'cognitive structures' of choice of Higher Education’ British Journal of Sociology of Education 23(1): 51-72. Barnes, C. & Mercer, G. (Eds), The Social Model of Disability: Europe and the Majority World, Leeds: The Disability Press. Boliver, V. (2013) ‘How fair is access to more prestigious UK Universities?’ British Journal of Sociology Bourdieu, P. (1990). The Logic of Practice. Cambridge: Polity Press. Cabinet Office (2011) Opening doors, breaking barriers: A strategy for social mobility. London: Cabinet Office. Edwards, R. (1993) Mature Women Students: Separating or Connecting Family and Education.London: Taylor and Francis. Equality Challenge Unit (2011) Equality in higher education: statistical report. Jones, K. (2006) ‘Valuing diversity and widening participation: The experiences of Access to Social Work students in Further and Higher education’, Social Work Education, 25(5): 485–500. Jones, O. (2011) Chavs: The demonisation of the working class. London: New Generation Labour. Levin, H. M. (1976) ‘Educational Opportunity and Social Inequality in Western Europe’, Social Problems 24(2): 148-172. MacLachlan, A. (2012) ‘Women and students of colour as non-traditional students: The difficulties of inclusion in the United States.’ in Hinton-Smith, T. (Ed.) Widening participation in Higher Education. London: Palgrave. Naidoo, R. & Callender, C. (2000) ‘Towards a more inclusive system of HE? Contemporary policy reform in higher education’, Social Policy Review, 12: 224–249 . Padilla-Carmona, M.T. (2012) ‘Widening participation in Spanish Higher Education: Will the current reform promote the inclusion of non-traditional students?’ in Hinton-Smith, T. (Ed.) Widening participation in Higher Education. London: Palgrave. Reay, D. (2003) ‘A risky business?: Mature working class women students and access to higher education’ Gender and Education 15(3): 301- 318. Reinharz, S. (1992) Feminist methods in social research. USA: OUP. Taylor, Y. (2007) ‘Going up without going away? Working-class women in higher education’, Youth and Policy, No. 94: 35–50. Woodley, A. and Wilson, J. (2002) ‘British higher education and its older clients’, Higher Education, 44: 329–347.