Johnson, Sally Elaine (1997) Continuity and change : a study of how women cope with the transition to professional programmes of higher education. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

The aims of the present study were to investigate how women manage the transition to
professional programmes of higher education and to identify what might assist and hinder
their coping. Initial conceptualisations were based on an assumption that there would be an
interaction between the different spheres in which the women operate; the private, the
professional and higher education. The literature reveals a preoccupation with either
psychological or social factors but there is a lack of theory which integrates these and
'solutions' put forward, aimed at assisting women in education, are broad and general.

The investigation took place in a School of a British University where the professional
areas chosen were social work and health care education. A feminist ethnographic approach
using multiple methods of data collection was taken. However, as the central focus was an
investigation of subjective accounts a phenomenological perspective was adopted and the
methods used were mainly qualitative. The investigation took place over two phases,
covering the period of transition to programmes over two consecutive years.

The overarching theme to emerge is the importance of continuities in terms of what women
'bring' from the private sphere and their professional context. Aspects of these continuities
were found to centrally impinge upon the women's sense of who they are and their current
situation, and arise from their social situation. Higher education does not always recognise
the importance of these continuities. The private sphere, the professional Context and
higher education are conceptualised as 'greedy institutions', with competing demands and
value bases. It is the movement between these contexts which causes problems for women.
An integrative framework based largely on Breakwell's (1986) theory of coping with
threatened identity is developed. The framework is extended to include a feminist analysis
of the social context in order to understand the women's coping. Specific suggestions are
put forward to assist mature women students 'manage' the transition.

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