Nixon, Lauren (2019) The Experiences of Higher Education Students in Further Education Colleges: A Post-Structural Analysis. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

The overall aim of this thesis was to consider and critically analyse the discourses that shape students’ experiences of HE-in-FE. This research analysed the discourses drawn upon by students and staff within a small FEC to describe their experiences in order to analyse how such discourses enable and constrain the experiences of the students. The research aimed to trouble the taken for granted discourses, in particular, those of widening participation, vulnerability and support, to highlight how such discourses may be enabling and constraining the HE-in-FE students’ experiences and identities.

The drive to increase participation in HE in England and the focus on widening participation in HE has resulted in the expansion of the provision of HE-in-FE. Such provision traditionally attracts non-traditional students, that is, those from working class backgrounds who are usually first-generation entrants to HE. The widening participation discourses within which these non-traditional students are located shape their experiences as students. There is little research which analyses how these students’ experiences are shaped by the discourses.

In order to meet the research aims a post-structuralist approach was taken to the research. A case study was conducted within a small Further Education College (FEC) in the north of England. A range of research methods were employed within the study including interviews, non-participant observations, photo elicitation group interviews and documentary analysis. Using this data, the discourses used to describe the experiences of HE-in-FE students were captured and analysed using discourse analysis.

The findings of this research suggest that that the widening participation discourse shapes the experiences of HE-in-FE students in contradictory ways. HE-in-FE students have been placed within a deficit discourse which influences the students’ confidence and self-esteem, shaping their identities and experiences. This works to reproduce social disadvantage and as such the provision of HE-in-FE may act as a new mechanism for maintaining inequality. At the same time however, widening participation positions students as having potential. This
has the contradictory effect of shaping students’ identities positively. Students construct an identity characterised by a sense of independence and determination to improve.

FINAL THESIS - NIXON, L.pdf - Accepted Version
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