Friday, 16 May 2008

Feedback from Student Support Forum

I've just come from a Student Support Forum meeting, which is essentially a talking-shop for partners in Student Services and academic departments to discuss big ideas and plans. TASH, you won't be surprised to learn, counts as one of these, so we had a very brief presentation and discussion of the project right at the end of the meeting.

Two key points - firstly, a huge amount of nodding and support from the room, especially from Andrew West and Debora Green - they both said this sort of thing is overdue. And secondly, many of the items that preoccupied the rest of the meeting were to do with student community and belonging, and in the worst instances, failures of this sense of community. I didn't realise this was such an issue for support and academic departments, and wonder whether, alongside all the inclusive curricula, transition support, etc. etc. language we're using, there's space also for helping develop a sense of belonging? Or at least that the institution values students as individuals? Anyway, just a thought, and the main message is about the support for the scheme.

1 comment:

Willy Kitchen said...

For thoughts on how students from "widening participation backgrounds" might sometimes find life in the academy, I would strongly recommend reading Simon Charlesworth's acknowledgments in his 2000 book "A phenomenology of working class experience" (Cambridge: CUP) - and indeed the rest of the book if you are interested in his ethnographic study of life in Rotherham in the late 1990s.

Speaking of his time at Cambridge he writes:

"Mike Fox saved me from the madness of being the only one. We joked that if ever we got through and got published, we'd say that it was *in spite* of Cambridge University. It is difficult to express how hard it can be living amongst some of the most privileged people in the world when you come back to (or from) the context described in this work. Little wonder it was so difficult for people to know me. The homogeneity of elite educational institutions establishes conditions for the most ruthless forms of discrimination that I've ever seen. With so many elite bodies together, there is a savagery to the process whereby personal relations are constituted that is paid for by the few exceptions who make it into such places." (Charlesworth, 2000: x).

I'm not necessarily suggesting things are quite that bad for the average "non-traditional" learner coming to this University from RCAT in Rotherham (Charlesworth's alma mater), but I'm sure some feel elements of what Charlesworth identifies here, as no doubt will some refugees, overseas students and disabled students ... to name just a few labelled categories.

So yes, finding and locating individuals within a wider institution culture - or cultures - developing and valuing a range of different communities of practice, are all important things to aim for, I think. Though how that might eventually relate to or feed into TASH remains to be considered I think. Personally, I always start to get a bit twitchy if a focus upon the "individual" is in danger of morphing into an concomittant "no such thing as society" rhetoric. I know that's not what you're suggesting here - but there are I think very important parallel pedagogical issues here which we need to keep firmly in mind when considering the overall accessibility for all of the resource we do develop - including of course its accessibility to pre-entry students in Kimberworth Park and Maltby, as well as Poland, Hong Kong and Belarus.