Experiencing Access: Issues for Policy and Practice - A Case Study

Phillips, Paul Robert (2009). Experiencing Access: Issues for Policy and Practice - A Case Study. EdD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000ea3c


The study explores the experiences of Access to Business students on a course that is characterised as diverse in terms of age, ethnicity and nationality. The key research question asked how students from diverse backgrounds experience learning on an Inner-City Access course. Sub-questions explored the extent to which the course attracted students from groups under-represented in higher education, how a classroom characterised as diverse affected the formation and functioning of learning communities and attitudes towards student dropout.

I adopted an interpretive, naturalistic method of enquiry, theorising the Access to Business programme as a bounded system (Smith, 1978) and conducting a qualitative case study. From a review of the literature I develop a theoretical framework incorporating habitus and capital (Bourdieu, 1984); communities of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1998) and the relationship between commitment and student dropout (Tinto, 1975). A common thread running through the framework is that of identity and difference.

The main research method I employed was the semi-structured interview. Other methods included focus groups, questionnaires and meetings. As a teacher/researcher I was also able to draw on my experience of teaching the students that provided the research data.

The main findings of my research reveal the way aspects of identity help to shape the way the classroom functions as a learning community: age, age difference, ethnicity, nationality and attitudes towards study play a part in the way students interact and form groups in the classroom. Diversity is seen as a resource that others can draw on to support learning. The study revealed the way the course has, to an extent, been colonised by those who have social resources that normalise participation in higher education and how aspects of learners' identities influence attitudes towards student dropout.

I suggested that the Access to Business course at Inner-London College could do more to target under-represented groups in and that a practical strategy would be to integrate Access awareness raising and normalising activities into existing programmes such as 'Aimhigher'. I also considered how practitioners could improve practice by recognising the importance that identity and social participation plays in learning and suggested practical suggestions for the classroom. Finally I considered possible areas for further research.

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