Managing difference and diversity in higher education: the limitations of widening participation discourses

Morrice, Linda (2013) Managing difference and diversity in higher education: the limitations of widening participation discourses. In: Standing Conference on University Teaching and Research in the Education of Adults (SCUTREA), 25-27 June 2013, Glasgow Caledonian University, Scotland, UK.

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Widening education participation and social inclusion have been central concerns in lifelong and higher education (HE) policy in the UK for more than a decade. Underpinning the shift to an expanded, mass higher education system are arguments not only for the need for a highly skilled and globally competitive work force, but also concerns for greater equity and social justice, although these latter concerns are often subsumed under hegemonic economic discourses and priorities. Alongside the expansion of HE we have seen a dramatic increase in the movement of people around the globe, labour migrants, students and refugees. The result is that students in HE no longer come from discrete places or fairly homogeneous groups; instead HE has become characterised by ever increasing diversity. In response to the broader range of HE students there has been a questioning of the usefulness of terms such as ‘under-represented’ and ‘non-traditional’ student in widening participation discourses (Gorard et al 2006; Watson 2006). Firstly because such binary terminology suggests a deficit model whereby such students require additional and separate provision to rectify perceived weaknesses. Secondly because it implies that there is still such a thing as a ‘traditional’ student, whereas there are multiple variables (age, gender, class, family and cultural background, location etc.) which intersect and change over time making simplistic formulations about the experiences of particular groups in HE difficult, if not impossible.
This paper juxtaposes case studies of four refugees as they move through HE to draw out the diversity and commonalities in experience, and how pre- and post-migratory experiences shape the encounter with higher education. I suggest that this empirical research highlights the need for greater emphasis on the subjective, emotional and experiential dimensions of identities, relations and inequalities in educational contexts. The paper serves as a reminder against over-generalising or universalising the needs of particular groups of students and highlights the importance of individual biography in order to begin to understand the experience in higher education. Despite the radically changing nature of HE brought about by globalisation it underlines the continuing relevance of pedagogies which enable the recognition and valuing of individual biography and what Freire called ‘local’ or ‘partial’ knowledge as a fundamental building block for engagement in learning (Freire 1992).

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Keywords: Higher Education; widening participation; refugees
Schools and Departments: School of Education and Social Work > Education
Subjects: H Social Sciences
L Education
Depositing User: Linda Morrice
Date Deposited: 22 Aug 2013 11:36
Last Modified: 16 Jun 2015 11:54

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