Realising potential? The challenges of widening participation for students, further education and higher education.
This source preferred by Lee-Ann Fenge
Authors: Fenge, L. and Fenge-Davies, L.
This thesis, and the focus of my research, has emerged from my own practice and some of the challenges I have faced as a practitioner involved in developing widening participation initiatives and Foundation Degrees. It consists of an exploration of the value of a Professional Doctorate in enabling researching professionals to develop research in the context of their everyday practice, and how this can encourage practitioners to unsettle their taken for granted notions of their practice world. It uses both a Practice Development Project, and a research project to achieve this aim. In particular the study sought to explore whether widening participation policy and practice does realise the potential of those groups it targets, or whether it sustains the status quo of educational inequality. The study uses theoretical concepts such as habitus and sense-making in developing an understanding of the identities of nontraditional mature learners.
A Complementary Purposes Model was used to interview three different groups – higher education staff, further education staff and Foundation Degree students. A number of key themes emerged concerning the way in which Foundation Degrees are seen as being ‘not quite HE’ by students and staff alike. Alongside this FD students are seen as ‘other’ and different to traditional HE students.
Principally my thesis concludes that widening participation policy can be challenged in a number of ways, including the way it has been linked to the needs of the ‘knowledge economy’, and the way that it tends to be focused on individual learner deficits rather than on challenging oppressive social structures that reinforce and maintain inequality. Activity is focused on realizing individual potential rather than on the potential for learning that remains untapped within particular social groups. Unless widening participation activity is embraced by all institutions with the same level of commitment and support, the status quo will remain, and the potential to learn within certain social groups will remain untapped.