Influences of past and present relational social processed when entering higher education post 30 years: Experiential accounts of foundation and year one students
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The Robbins Report (1963) championed the idea that higher education (HE) should be available to all who might benefit. Consequently, fair access and social inclusion have become central to the UK and Welsh Government’s lifelong learning and widening participation agenda. However, not all policies facilitated this. For example, in 1999, the Labour government set a target that 50 per cent of 18 to 30 year-olds should experience HE by 2010 and commentators, such as Gorard and Rees (2006) and O’Shea and Stone (2011) suggest that the 18 to 30 target has led to an emphasis upon this age demographic, leaving older learners either ignored in literature or portrayed as problematic and vulnerable. Additionally, within the educational literature there seems to be a limited understanding of the ways in which relational social processes can act as motivations and barriers to learning across the lifespan (Fuller and Heath, 2010). The present study seeks to address these gaps. HE students, aged 30 years and over, were asked to reflect upon the ways in which such processes influenced their initial decisions to participate in HE and continued to influence their actual HE experience. A phenomenological, qualitative approach was employed with six adult learners who were either at the end of their Foundation Year or at the end of Year 1 of degree level study at a HE Institution in South Wales. A ‘bolder’ design (Smith, Flower & Larkin, 2009) was developed, which combined interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) with auto-driven photo elicitation (APE). Findings suggested that past and present relational social processes were multifaceted and complex, influencing and shaping each individual’s decision to participate and their ongoing engagement. Participants likened their HE experience to a journey, leading them from a powerless to powerful state of personal and academic growth and development. This study challenges and expands on current literature regarding traditional motivations and barriers to learning. Furthermore, it highlights that participation in HE takes place at any age and is not reserved for those under the age of 30.
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