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Major boost for widening university access


Major research is being carried out by academics at Sunderland and Cambridge universities into the experiences of working class students in higher education.

The work, which is part of a £30m research programme, could help universities better understand issues such as progression and retention, as well as create a greater awareness of how to improve provision and support for students from backgrounds where there is little tradition of higher education.

The research will examine the learning, social and cultural experiences of working class students in four types of education institution, in different parts of England.

They include an ‘elite’, ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’ university, as well as a further education college. The experiences of students within these different contexts will be closely examined to see how they adapt to these learning environments or resist changes to their sense of identity.

The £168,000 project is part of phase four of the national £30m Teaching and Learning Research Program, funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England through the Economic and Social Research Council.

The project is being led by Sunderland academic Professor Gill Crozier, who is working with Professor Diane Reay from Cambridge University.

Prof Crozier says: “We plan to track around six students from each institution over a year. We want to find out about their social and cultural experiences and if there is an impact from those experiences on themselves as learners.

“We want to find out whether students have to adapt and change in order to make good progress. For example in the ‘elite’ university we want to find out if students have to change any aspect of their identity.

“In a new university, where there’s already a significant amount of working class students, they might feel more at ease, but we want to know out if this has a positive or negative effect on them as learners.“

The study could offer new insights by addressing a largely under-researched area. While much has been established regarding the choice of a university among working-class students - for example, students often perceiving ‘modern’ universities as more comfortable and familiar environments, little research has been conducted into the actual time spent within these institutions.

Steve Heywood | alfa
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