The transition of adult students to higher education: communities, practice and participation

Sutherland, Douglas (2015) The transition of adult students to higher education: communities, practice and participation. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis investigates the distinctive characteristics of adult students’ experience of transition to higher education. It addresses a gap in the current academic literature which, driven by concerns about the economic, social and personal implications of ‘problematic’ or ‘failed’ transition, often conceptualises transition to higher education in narrow, instrumental terms and frames it as a predominately linear process with a discernible beginning and end. By highlighting what falls within normative parameters of transition, this approach arguably obscures its heterogeneity. The research presented in this thesis suggests that it particularly lacks the flexibility to illuminate the more diverse experience of adult students whose individual histories, responsibilities, social networks, fears and dreams are – in general – very different to those of ‘traditional’ younger students around whose needs most models of transition support are primarily shaped. By adopting a more radical conceptualisation of transition which sees it as the lifelong ebb and flow of change in response to the multiplicity of factors that impact and shape human experience, the research highlights two overarching aspects of adult students’ experience of transition which have received relatively little attention in the relevant literature. First, it highlights the ubiquitous presence of risk and the anxiety it engenders in adult students’ experience of transition. For the vast majority of adult students their decision to enter higher education later in life is accompanied by a heightened awareness that the expectations behind that decision may not be fully realised. The research suggests that the anxiety that frequently accompanies this awareness permeates their whole experience of transition to higher education and has the potential to intensify concerns about mastering its valued practices. Second, the research highlights the significance of adult students’ social networks outwith higher education. Managing the interaction between these and higher education networks and communities is challenging for some students, particularly when the identity shift inherent in transition entails an element of distancing from longstanding supportive networks. Overall, this research points to the need for a widened perspective on adult students’ transition which moves the focus beyond problem solving towards a more nuanced approach that more fully acknowledges the sheer diversity of the factors involved.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Adult education, Scottish universities, transition to higher education, situated learning, social networks
Subjects: L Education > LB Theory and practice of education
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB2300 Higher Education
L Education > LC Special aspects of education > LC5201 Education extension. Adult education. Continuing education
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Education
Supervisor's Name: Doyle, Dr. Lesley
Date of Award: 2015
Depositing User: Mr Douglas Sutherland
Unique ID: glathesis:2015-6286
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 21 Apr 2015 15:43
Last Modified: 10 Aug 2018 08:18

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