Over the past year, the project team has set up a sociology of higher education reading group at the University of Surrey. See here for a list of the various articles we’ve talked about so far.
Over the summer, all four members of our team will be giving presentations – drawing on some initial findings from the project – at a number of conferences, including the ESA, ECER and RGS-IBS. Find out more here.
We are delighted that our proposal for a symposium at the Royal Geographical Society-Institute of British Geographers Annual Conference (29th August-1st September 2017) has been accepted. The title of the symposium is ‘Constructing the higher education student: understanding spatial variations’ and the abstract can be found here. We have organised it with Johanna Waters (University of Oxford) and it is sponsored by the Geographies of Children, Youth and Families Research Group (of the Royal Geographical Society).
The symposium will be in two parts, and comprises the following papers:
Constructing ‘spaces’ of student friendship: understanding the socio-spatial co-production of friendship in UK university halls of residences (Mark Holton, Plymouth University, UK)
Cohortness and more-than-neoliberal subjectivities: (mis)fitting into student life (Peter Kraftl, University of Birmingham, UK and Gavin Brown, University of Leicester, UK)
Black and minority ethnic experiences of a university campus in northern England (Graeme Mearns and Peter Hopkins, University of Newcastle, UK)
The role of the university – and therefore the student? (Richard Budd, Liverpool Hope University, UK)
The construction and spatial positioning of higher education students in English policy documents (Rachel Brooks, University of Surrey, UK)
Constructing the international student in UK policy: the neocolonial subject (Sylvie Lomer, University of Manchester, UK)
A critical analysis of the Palestinian educational student im/mobility: motivation, challenges and identities (Nancy Amoudi, Leeds Beckett University, UK)
Academic mobility and precarity: study abroad as escape or emplacement among political actors (Rika Theo and Maggi Leung, Utrecht University, The Netherlands)
Implementing Study-to-work Policies for International Students in Switzerland: To what Extent are Federal Policies Re-interpreted at the Local Level? (Yvonne Riano, University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland)
The meaning of discipline in constructing the implied student in higher education (Lene Møller Madsen, Lars Ulriksen and Henriette Tolstrup Holmegaard, University of Copenhagen, Denmark)
Do come along and join us!
Jessie and Rachel are looking forward to giving a paper based on some initial findings from the project at the BSA annual conference at the start of April. They will draw on their analysis of English policy documents (from government, staff and student unions and employers’ organisations) and nine focus groups with English undergraduates (see abstract below). This forms part of a symposium we have organised on ‘Constructing the higher education student and graduate’.
The choices and aspirations of higher education students in England
Within a climate of increased university tuition fees, students have arguably become increasingly constructed as ‘consumers’. For example, in England, the recent radical changes to HE funding are predicated upon the assumption that prospective students will: see a degree as a private investment (rather than a public good); be prepared to accumulate significant debt in order to acquire it; and actively ‘shop around’, comparing institutions and courses to secure the ‘best’ possible education (BIS, 2011). However the extent to which contemporary students understand their role within the institution and how this compares to policy constructions is yet to be fully explored. This paper draws upon early data collected as part of the five year European Research Council-funded ‘Eurostudents’ project to explore the extent to which there is congruence between these constructions in policy and amongst students themselves. We focus in particular on constructions and narratives of ‘choice’ and ‘aspiration’ of higher education students in England. Firstly, we analyse the ways in which decision-making processes are constructed in contemporary policy documents, including the white paper Success as a Knowledge Economy: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice (DBIS, 2016), which provides the basis for the Higher Education Bill currently passing through parliament. Secondly, we consider the extent to which these constructions are shared by students themselves, using data from focus groups in a diverse sample of higher education institutions. We explore whether students contest these constructions and/or offer their own alternatives. A key aspect of our analysis – across both the policy documents and focus groups – is the extent to which differences between students (and associated structural inequalities) are acknowledged and addressed.
Call for Papers: Symposium on ‘Constructing the higher education student: understanding spatial variations’, Royal Geographical Society-Institute of British Geographers Annual Conference, 29th August-1st September 2017
Rachel is organising a symposium with Johanna Waters (University of Oxford) (abstract below). This is sponsored by the Geographies of Children, Youth and Families Research Group (of the Royal Geographical Society).
Please send abstracts to Rachel by noon on 13th February for consideration for this session: email@example.com
Many scholars have argued that, in contemporary society, higher education policy and practice have both been profoundly changed by globalising pressures. Indeed, some have contended that the state’s capacity to control education has been significantly limited by the growth of both international organisations and transnational companies (Ball, 2007) and that the three traditional models of university education in Europe (Humboldtian, Napoleonic and Anglo-Saxon) have been replaced by a single Anglo-American model, characterised by, inter alia, competition, marketisation, decentralisation and a focus on entrepreneurial activity. Nevertheless, this analysis is not universally held. For example, not all European nations have sought to establish elite universities or maximise revenue through attracting international students, and significant differences remain in the way in which higher education is funded. In explaining such variations, scholars have pointed to differences in political dynamics, politico-administrative structures and intellectual traditions, as well as the flexibility and mutability of neo-liberal ideas themselves. However, research to date has focussed primarily on the extent of convergence (or divergence) with respect to top-level policies; as a result, little work has explored the perspectives of social actors, nor the ways in which policy may be ‘enacted’ locally, in ways that diverge from formal policy documents.
In this session we intend to bring together papers that explore the ways in which ‘the higher education student’ is constructed across different spatial contexts. We are keen to include papers that draw on data derived from students themselves, as well as from other social actors (such as the media, policymakers and higher education staff). We anticipate that they will speak to debates about what it means to be a young person within the contemporary university, as well as to those that relate more specifically to the geographies of higher education.
We are delighted that our proposal for a symposium at the BSA annual conference in 2017 has been accepted. It will focus on ‘Constructions of the higher education student and graduate’ and include presentations from Katy Vigurs, Johanna Waters, Kim Allen and Nicola Ingram, as well as from the Eurostudents team. The symposium abstract is as follows:
Education, and in particular higher education (HE) is often constructed as the great equaliser of life chances, and an important vehicle for social mobility. However, within the contemporary landscape – with an increasingly global ‘higher education market’ and the repositioning of higher education as a private (rather than public) good – traditional forms of inequality arguably appear magnified. This special session brings together work from four different research projects, investigating what it means to be a contemporary HE student or graduate in England and East Asia, and how these roles are being transformed through particular policy pressures. Overall the session seeks to explore the following broad questions: What does it mean to be a student in HE today? How does the conception of the HE student differ from policy to practice? How does the discourse around education and meritocracy construct some young people as ‘failures’? In a contemporary context of increased tuition fees and debt, how are young people navigating the graduate labour market? What are the mechanisms through which graduates today become identified as ‘ideal’ and ‘employable’ candidates? To what extent are inequalities of class, race and gender being reproduced through these contemporary constructions of students and graduates? To what extent do we see variation across different national contexts?
We are looking forward to giving the first proper paper from our project at the Society for Research into Higher Education’s annual conference in early December. It’s entitled ‘Constructing the Higher Education Student in Europe’ and the abstract is given below.
Higher education is of considerable importance to policymakers across Europe. Indeed, it is viewed as a key mechanism for achieving a range of economic, social and political goals. Nevertheless, despite this prominence within policy, we have no clear understanding of the extent to which conceptualisations of ‘the student’ are shared across the continent. To start to redress this gap, this paper explores four key aspects of contemporary higher education students’ lives, considering the extent to which they can be considered as, variously, consumers, workers, family members and political actors. On the basis of this evidence, it argues that, despite assumptions on the part of European policymakers that there are now large commonalities in the experiences of students across Europe – evident in pronouncements about Erasmus mobility and the operations of the European Higher Education Area – significant differences exist both between, and within, individual nation-states.
If you’re attending the SRHE conference, please do come along to our session – it’s on 7th December at 12.45pm.
We are delighted that the following people have agreed to join our Advisory Group:
Barbara Kehm, Professor of Leadership and International Strategic Development in Higher Education, University of Glasgow, UK
Lea Meister, President of the European Students’ Union
Maria Slowey, Professor and Director of Higher Education Research and Development, Dublin City University, Ireland
Aina Tarabini, Senior Lecturer in Sociology of Education, Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain
Carlos Vargas-Tamez, Senior Project Officer, Education Research and Foresight Unit, UNESCO
Susan Wright, Professor, Danish School of Education, Aarhus University, Denmark
One of the four strands of our research focuses on analysing the ways in which students are constructed in the media in our six case study countries (England, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Poland, Spain). We will be analysing newspaper articles and also popular TV shows and films that feature higher education students in a prominent manner.
We are keen to put together a resource of relevant TV shows and films – for our own benefit, but hopefully it will be of use to others as well. Paul Greatrix has done a good job identifying some sources, that will be familiar to a UK audience, including a dozen which he thinks it’s best to avoid. However, we hope to include media from other European countries in our list.
If you have some suggestions, please do get in touch with us. We’ll compile all the nominated films and TV shows into one list, which we’ll post here in due course (and thank all those who have contributed). Many thanks!
We are very pleased that all members of the EuroStudents research team have now started work on the project. Here are some brief introductions to the researchers….
Jessie Abrahams is one of the post-doctoral research fellows on the project, working in particular on the student understandings strand. She is in the final stages of an ESRC-funded PhD at Cardiff University looking at the way in which the English secondary education system reproduces social class inequalities through its structures and practices. Prior to this, Jessie was a research assistant on the Leverhulme Trust-funded Paired Peers Project exploring the experiences of students from different social class backgrounds at the University of Bristol and UWE Bristol.
Predrag Lažetić is also a post-doctoral fellow on the project and he is responsible for the institutional perspectives strand of research. He is the final stages of his PhD work at the University of Bath investigating the institutional regime differences in the quality of jobs higher education graduates undertake in different European countries. Prior to this post he worked as the director of the Centre for Education Policy in Belgrade and as a researcher in the International Centre for Higher Education Research in Kassel, Germany, specialising in both posts in higher education research.
Anu Lainio is a postgraduate researcher on the project and is leading the media representations strand of work. Anu did her first master’s in education in University of Tampere. She studied her second master’s in Erasmus Mundus programme on Lifelong Learning: Policy and Management in Aarhus University (Copenhagen) and Deusto University (Bilbao). Anu also has a several years working experience in higher education administration and in international relations. Her research interests are in internationalisation of higher education, mobility, social justice and equality.