Ashmore, Lyn (2007) Mature black women in Higher Education: a study of culture, ethnicity, gender and educational experiences in Northern England. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

This chapter provides the background to this study, its significance, aims and intended outcomes. There
are three themes that weave their way through the following nine chapters: firstly, the research aims to
increase knowledge and understanding of how black mature women, particularly those black women from
the lower socioeconomic groups, perceive higher education (HE) (Parry, 1995; Scott, 1995; Castells,
1997; Crawford, 2000; Connor, 2001; Walker, 2001; HEFCE, 2006). Secondly, the related concepts of
‘culture’ and ‘identity’ are crucial: based on the notion that culture and its impact can play a significant
role in ethnic minorities’ behaviour and values (Verma and Bagley, 1984; Ward and Jenkins 1984;
Mercer, 1994; Neave, 2000; Housee, 2001; Pollard, 2002; Mirza, 2005). Thirdly, this thesis locates its
findings within the wider contexts of widening participation in higher education and of black women’s
experiences, of HE, considering the problems and problematisation of mature students who may be
confronted with educational and institutional barriers (Cross, 1981; Cummings, 1992; McGivney, 1993;
Home and Hinds, 2000; Potter and Ferguson, 2003 and others). However, herein lies a conundrum: how
to elicit and understand the higher education experience of mature black women students, and how to use
this understanding to develop ways of enhancing the experiences of future students.
To resolve my quest for answers, following Housee’s (2001) argument on ethnic minorities’ experiences
in higher education, and Gilligan (1982) in a different voice, I need first to turn this question on its head:
why am I concerned that the university experience of mature black women students may affect their
learning? There is no simple dichotomy; there are black women of different age, ability, confidence, with
different life experiences from not dissimilar cultural backgrounds rooted in advantage or inequality and
living in conditions that may be enabling or dis-enabling in higher education with their story.
Housee (2006) states that there was a clear indication that differences in students’ experiences were not
merely due to whether the teacher had a good day or not, but that the significant factor was due to
inconsistencies and unsupportive behaviour in terms of the way they spoke to students and often in the
feedback students received (Young, 2000). In order to have an interweaving of the theoretical framework
of the research, I first had to look at the concepts of Critical Race Theory (CRT), barriers to learning,
elements of a responsive lifelong learning and widening participation and best practices in teaching as a
starting point in the analysis of the literature reviewed for this thesis. How mature black women fit into
the ideological and cultural backdrop is discussed throughout this thesis.

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