Tuesday, 23 April 2013

campus? what campus?

Someone has commented, though not publicly, that for a blog entitled Campus Chronicler, I don't seem to spend much time on campus (see below)!  This is an excellent point.  I am a full-time, doctoral student but enrolled at a university 120 miles away. I visit about twice a month for supervisions and library raids. I spend the bulk of my PhD life in a small room overlooking my neighbours' gardens on the outskirts of a (quite funky) small town in the West Country.  My 'campus' (study space, cafes, bars, sports facilities, social life), is either downstairs, on my doorstep or within a 5 mile radius.  But my 'campus' is also the extensive virtual library facilities I enjoy and the whole network of people I connect with via email, blogging, facebook and twitter and, less often, conferences and seminars.  Some are new to me since I started my PhD studies, others have been built up over a long and pro-active working life in higher education and associated fields.  My 'campus' is also the organisations I play an active part in, notably UALL - The Universities Association of Lifelong Learning and UALL's national women's network Women in Lifelong Learning, which I convene, not to mention the news, issues and debates about higher education I try to keep track of.  
The relevance of all this (and therefore the reason I'm blogging about it) is that one element of my research is what 'belonging' means for part-time, mature students in higher education.  Because belonging has been highlighted as critical to retention, I am trying to uncover how the multi-faceted lives of part-time, mature students impact on way they negotiate, indeed need to 'belong' to their higher education institutions.  
I'm definitely mature, but I'm not part-time, nor undergraduate, but there are similarities with my research question and my own circumstances.  Even though I'm here and my university is there, I feel I belong enough to keep me going.  Admittedly, I've been well-trained through several years of Open University distance study but I also have a rich life and a rich history that I am weaving into my developing identity as a doctoral researcher.  I feel as though my campus - any campus, experienced by any student, is, as Doreen Massey (1997) would define it 'a particular constellation of social relations, meeting and weaving together at a particular locus...articulated moments in networks of social relations and understandings'. This implies that belonging can be something 'inbetween' rather than a finite state.  
So, I maintain I am a campus chronicler, despite appearances and the odd city break to the contrary!  In any case, I'm grateful for the comment which unwittingly, has connected me more closely to my research! 

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Treacle and Twelfth Night

After a day spent wrestling with a paper on identity (multiple, fluid, negotiated) - I'm at what I call the treacle stage - I found myself at a performance of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night (separated twins one of whom pretends to be a different gender to get the guy she loves, fends off a woman who falls in love with her, etc...)  performed by an all male cast (propellor.org.uk). A play strangely appropriate to my current intellectual task. Lots of cross dressing, gender confusion etc., performed with emotional intelligence and flair.  It must be a GCSE/A set text because the theatre was full of rapt teenagers who gave the performance a standing ovation.  Heart warming.  If Propeller Theatre come to somewhere near you, go and see them, whether or not you like theatre/Shakespeare  You might just get a taste for it!

Sunday, 14 April 2013

goodbye Berlin, hello Bakewell

Just back from a short trip to Berlin which featured a visit to the Reichstag - an architectural invitation to transparency and reflection which never fails to inspire.  It was good to experience (albeit briefly) Berlin's energy and style (and to escape the Thatcher media frenzy for a few days).  Back to work now and an opportunity to reflect on Joan Bakewell's welcome intervention in the part-time study debate  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-22039482 .   Government statements on the issue seem wilfully blinkered if not purposefully obtuse.  The facts are that part-time undergraduate enrolments in higher education for 2012/13 are down 40%; postgraduate down 27%, following the introduction of significantly higher tuition fees.  Keep your eyes peeled for the outcome of the UUK Review of part-time study http://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/highereducation/Pages/UniversitiesUKpart-timeReview.aspx.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

discovering slow thinking

This week I've been attempting to untangle theories of identity and belonging alongside completing a long-deferred job of painting the kitchen cupboards.  The work of sanding, priming, undercoating and painting has provided some light relief when my mind just wouldn't absorb or process any more.  Now I'm realising that each stage of the painting job - and the necessary waiting period in between - has punctuated my very slow progress towards what might, eventually, be a paper for my next supervision.  I'm learning the value of slow thinking.  I've allowed myself to be challenged, confused (and bored) by my reading then got the paintbrush out and given myself the space for my thoughts to sift, review, connect.  Painting is well suited to this process - it's rhythmic, repetitive and, in contrast to my reading, something which shows clear and usually satisfying results relatively quickly!  

Apparently Barack Obama is a slow thinker, although I'm guessing he doesn't use the kitchen cupboard method.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

social mobility? what's not to like?

Last week I attended a conference on higher education and social mobility.  The holy grail of the 'graduate job' and the fast disappearing 'graduate premium' have encouraged the assumption that HE is good for social mobility.  The only way is up.  
As someone researching part-time, mature students in higher education I was looking forward to some critical discussion of the term.  After all, social mobility might mean something different to a 40 year old student changing career direction than to a 21 year old first time entrant to the labour market.   Should all students (and staff) subscribe to the overwhelmingly economic emphasis placed on social mobility in policy documents and institutional publicity? 
There were some thought provoking contributions.  Professor Chris Brink VC  of Newcastle University argued for a more lateral conception of social mobility which embraced its moral and social dimensions as well as economic; civic and public good as well as private benefit.  Social mobility he said encompasses university as a destination and as a point of departure.  It was an interesting perspective, idealistic perhaps.  I wondered how a VC of a new university might have approached the subject.  Claire Callender (Birkbeck, Institute of Education) reported on recent research demonstrating that part-time learners acquire AND deploy the significant benefits they gain from HE in their working and non-working lives while they are studying as well as afterwards.  She argued that the lower financial but wide-ranging, non-financial benefits of part-time study means that part-time students should attract greater subsidy.  There was also a stimulating presentation from Professor Ann-Marie Bathmaker as part of the Bristol Paired Peers project http://www.pairedpeers.com/Home.html, showing the stratification of social mobility across different universities and the ways in which middle-class students mobilise all the capitals: economic, social, cultural available to them to compensate for their attendance of 'lower-status' universities. 
There was also plenty of rhetoric and evidence of an unquestioning approach to social mobility, not to mention a couple of presentations which were not about social mobility at all, but simply added the term to their presentation title....(nothing new there!)
And today a further dimension to the social mobility discussion - the presentation of a new 7-social class model ranging from elite to 'precariat'...http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-22007058  More on this once I've taken the test to discover where I fit....!