Lavender, Kathryn (2015) Mature Students, Resistance, and Higher Vocational Education: A Multiple Case Study. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

The expansion of higher education (HE) in England has seen the rise of alternative higher level qualifications and pathways such as the sub-degree qualification - the foundation degree, which are commonly delivered in further education colleges, also known as Higher Vocational Education (HIVE). These developments are part of the widening participation agenda to increase participation in HE of traditionally underrepresented groups. Higher
Vocational Education is often seen as a viable alternative to university HE and typically attracts students with vocational and non-traditional entry qualifications, such as mature students. Mature students as participants of HIVE is a relatively under researched area therefore this thesis sought to understand why mature students participate in HIVE in FE colleges. In addition, the thesis also aimed to understand how mature students understood and experienced HE and FE practices in institutions that are predominantly concerned with delivering FE provision. Relatedly, understandings of the effect of participation in HE on the identity of mature students in the context of an FE college were explored.
In order to do this, an inductive approach to data generation was taken. A multiple case study was conducted of seven mature students studying HIVE at a medium sized further education college in the north of England. Informal interviews and participant observation field notes of eight mature students were conducted. Documents of focus groups that were held with their cohorts throughout the academic year 2013-14 were also used to construct the case studies. Cross-case analyses were conducted thematically using a priori themes of HE and FE practices such as independent learning, critical thinking and collective learning. However, during the analysis more nuanced and complex themes of resistance emerged such as self-exclusion and ‘othering’ of FE culture. Using theories of resistance (Giroux, 1983/2001), these different understandings were explored by capturing the ways in which the students resisted practices at the HIVE/FE interface.
The thesis argues that in terms of participation, mature students are somewhat (self) diverted to this particular type of HE in spite of their understanding of its relative position in the HE sector. However, rather than blindly accepting this position, the mature students exercised agency during their experience with a view to creating parity of esteem with more traditional types of HE. Unlike studies that problematize transitions for certain types of students, it appears that the struggles these students faced were trying to engage in HE practices against the backdrop of an FE culture. The development of a distinctly ‘HE’ identity by the mature students can therefore be seen to constitute a HE counter culture to the predominantly FE culture of the College which goes some way towards shaping the (often competing) HE and FE cultures within the College. However, in some cases this HE counter culture within the dominant FE culture served to reinforce the disparity of esteem between HE and FE from within. Whilst embracing a HE culture may have transformative effects for the individuals, the footprint they leave behind drives a further wedge between HE and FE as equally valuable forms of lifelong learning.

Final thesis - LAVENDER.pdf - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

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