Ruth Penfold-Mounce, Merran Toerien, Department of Sociology
Dr. Gareth Millington and Ruth Penfold-Mounce presented their initial results in a recent project undertaken with Dr Merren Toerien designed to understand the experiences of widening participation (WP) students studying in the Sociology department. They discussed the results of the project which explored key themes – formative experiences of schooling, influence of parents and guardians on choices, why they chose to study at university level, why York and why Sociology.
The department recruits a number of WP students who are mature, from lower socio-economic backgrounds or from a British minority ethnicity. Given that they are successful in their recruitment of these students they undertook the project to create a knowledge base for the sociology department on their student’s perceptions of studying at York and also hoped to create a tool-kit which other departments could use to help them with their recruitment of WP students.
One of the most insightful findings was that WP students have both diverse and complex backgrounds and therefore they cannot be seen as a homogenous group. It needs to be recognised instead that each individual has intersecting multiple needs. They also discussed the identity of the students where they found that many do not see identify primarily as a student but rather their identity is as a carer or parent or it might be more closely linked to their occupation.
Rather than finding their WP status as something that held them back, the study found that many students used their previous experiences or background to their advantage. They found that some students thought that their ‘working-class work ethic’ enabled them to work harder than their middle-class counterparts. They did see themselves in deficit by coming to university but instead valued their previous experiences and skills.
They presented their tool-kit for departments in which highlighted:
- The importance of liaising with schools in advance of the students’ applications as they found that the greatest influence on the students’ decision to apply is their school.
- The role of the parent through the application process.
- Making the course information accessible and not overload students in the first week.
- Making the research relate to the student’s personal experiences.
This interesting and engaging session showcased the value of WP students to York. Departments should be encouraged to explore what these students can teach their peers as they have possess a driven focus to get the most out of their university experience. They are also great key graduate ambassadors who can inspire students from similar backgrounds to apply to the university.
Madeleine Mossman, Learning Enhancement, University of York