Students and Universities - Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee Contents


Memorandum 90

Submission from Dr Mary Stuart[342]

INQUIRY INTO THE STUDENT EXPERIENCE IN HIGHER EDUCATION

  I have been involved in a range of research projects looking at the Student Experience in Higher Education, all funded by external bodies. I report below on the results of these projects for the interest of the committee. I have been principal investigator on the projects and worked with my colleague Dr Catherine Lido as co-investigator and Dr Jessica Morgan as our postdoc researcher.

HEA Project: Aspirations and Barriers for Different Student Groups in undertaking Post Graduate Study (2006-07)

1,073 questionnaires were collected from students in their final year of undergraduate study at two different Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in England examining students' attitudes to undertaking postgraduate study beyond their Honours degree programmes. A wide variety of subjects were targeted to make the results generalisable. While there is substantial literature on all aspects of the undergraduate student experience (Thomas et al 2002; Woodrow 1998; Tinto 1988; Hatt, et al 2005; Woodfield 2002; Kantanis 2002), research is limited in the area of postgraduate (PG) study. This lack of research has been noted in several recent publications (Leonard et al 2006; Wakeling 2005; HEFCE 2006). Green (2005) argues that the research previously undertaken in the area of the PG student experience has tended to focus on PG research students.

The regression analyses revealed that UK students, those who studied practical/applied courses, those who were more worried about debt (but not necessarily in more debt), those with no children, white/non-ethnic minority students and those from families who have no previous Higher Education (HE) experience are less likely to intent to undertake PG Study.

On the other hand, overseas students (including European mainland students), those on theoretical/non-applied courses, those who are less worried about debt (but not necessarily in less debt), those with children, ethnic minority students and those from families who have previous HE experience are more likely to intent to undertake PG Study.

  There were no main effects of age groups, occupational class, or actual debt on the students' intentions to undertake PG study. There were differences between class and reported family HE experience, but class alone was not a sufficient factor in affecting intentions to undertake postgraduate study.

  The regression analyses revealed a very "similar" picture of key factors predicting intentions to undertake a postgraduate qualification at both the sites studied. The sample as a whole reveals a fairly homogenous and coherent representation of factors important for predicting postgraduate study. The factors encouraging intentions to postgraduate study were the domicile status of the student (overseas), the course of study (theoretical), debt worry (low), family HE experience (high) and then marginally, their ethnicity (minority groups) and sex (female).


Factor Ranking
Variance in PG Intentions Explained= 8%
(Adjusted R2=.06)
F(8, 510) =5.15, p<.001
Beta

1
Home or overseas student
.24***
2
Main subject of course
-.11***
3
Debt worry
-.13**
4
Dependent children
.06*
5
Ethnicity
.06*
6
Family members HE experience
-.15***

*p<.05, **p<.01, ***p<.001and tp<.10


UK, mainland Europe and Overseas Students' Intentions to undertake PG study



  Post hoc tests revealed that both EU and OS students are more likely to intend to undertake PG study than UK students (p<.001 in both cases), however there is no difference between EU and OS students.

Applied and Theoretical Discipline Differences in Intentions to undertake PG Study



  A highly significant predictor of intentions to undertake PG study in this sample is the area of study they are undertaking (which is compounded with the "type of degree" the student is studying). The highest "intenders to PG study" are those in the natural/physical sciences, the humanities and social studies. Those who are in more applied courses, such as business administration, computing, engineering and health disciplines are lower in intentions to undertake PG study. The above graph shows a clear split between technical and non-technical disciplines. This pattern is replicated at both of the University sites. This result suggests that where there is a clear vocational outcome from the undergraduate programme, students are keen to get out into the job market immediately. It indicates that students are making choices based on their future careers and are quite focused on their future opportunities.

Debt Worry

  Debt worry is a significant negative predictor, such that the higher the debt worry the lower the students' intentions to undertake PG study. As both of these variables are scale data, the correlation (r= -.13, p<.01) reveals that the magnitude is only moderate, but the direction of the relationship is in the predicted direction and it is a highly significant finding. This finding occurs for both Universities. In other words, it is not the amount of debt a student might have, but rather the attitude associated with the debt that acts as a barrier to PG study intentions.

Children

Having dependent children is also a significant predictor of PG study. Those who have children (of any age) are significantly higher, than those who do not, in intentions to undertake PG study. Interestingly, those with children aged 11 to 16 are highest in their intentions. This pattern is generally replicated at both Universities.

Ethnicity and Gender (marginally significant)

The ethnicity of the participant is only marginally significant, but this factor emerges as significant when the universities are examined separately. Gender, is also a marginally significant factor, with women being slightly higher in intentions to undertake PG study than men (p<.10), but caution must be used in interpreting this effect given the unequal numbers of men and women in the sample overall and in distribution throughout the various courses.

Family HE Experience

Although family's HE experience does not appear as a significant predictor in the overall regression, it is in fact an important factor when the Universities are examined separately (this is due to the fact that different combinations of family factors emerge with each data set. Overall Family experience was a significant predictor at one university, and fathers experience and mothers experience predicted intentions to study at the other university. But, when this pattern is examined using ANOVAs to look closer at the differences, father's study is found at both Universities.

In the interview phase of the research (20 in-depth interviews), many students felt that they wanted to get out into the workplace quickly to use the knowledge they had gained at undergraduate level, giving them a break from study which they found stressful and personally challenging. They also felt that employers would value work experience more than further study. Several believed they would return to gain further qualifications in the future, possibly paid for by their employer. This expectation may well have implications for HEIs as they develop their plans for employer engagement. On the other hand students on theoretical courses felt a PG qualification would give them an "edge" in the workplace after they had completed their PG course. Career prospects were important to all interviewees, whether they had gone on to PG study or not.

  Several of the interviewees, from whatever background, highlighted the importance of emotional support from family and friends in succeeding in what many saw as the stressful environment of HE study. Other personal factors, such as setting a good example to their children, also had an impact on undertaking PG study.

  Actual debt was accepted as part of studying but students attitudes to debt did vary. Most did not regard the cost of PG fees as prohibitively high. Far more significant for many of the interviewees was not having any money. In other words, access to credit was seen as a positive for many, but not having enough money for the lifestyle that they wanted was one reason given by students who did not continue on to PG study.

  There were differences between different ethnic groups and between UK and overseas students in their intentions to take on PG study. In the interviews these differences often related to experience of higher education within their families (parents and partners in particular).

  Students were making choices about further study based on their perceptions of their future position in the workplace. The research provides clear evidence of students' balancing the risks between employment prospects, study and their own view of acceptable levels of debt. In this context the sociological concept of "reflexivity" (Beck, 1992, and Beck, Giddens and Lash, 1994) is particularly useful in that it offers a way of understanding the decision-making process, students seek to minimise individual risk as they construct their career and learning biographies.

  The final report is available at:

  There is a health warning to this research. The study is based on students who graduated from their Honours degrees in 2007. This means that the cohort had studied under the old fee regime. It is possible that concerns about debt may have significantly changed for students graduating this year (2009) as their fees have been higher in England. Also it is important to consider, given the changes in economic climate, if students with vocational qualifications would be as certain of gaining employment as they were in 2007. I am currently developing a further funding bid to re-do this research to specifically look at these two questions.

HEA Project: Student Diversity, Extracurricular Activities and Perceptions of Graduate Outcomes (2007-08)

  This project examined the role of extra-curricular activities (ECAs) on students and their futures. The research was carried out at four geographically and demographically diverse UK universities, from the perspective of students, alumni and employers, based on 700 respondents across the UK. The report is currently being peer reviewed.

There is little research that examines the role of ECAs on student life and their future prospects in Britain, (Little, 2006). Research undertaken in the USA on high school students suggests that engagement in ECAs that are social or cultural can have a positive impact on grades. There is also evidence that different social and cultural backgrounds can have a significant effect on participation and type of extra curricular activities (Brown & Evans, 2002).

  Overall students seem to spend most time with friends, in private study and engaged in web based activities and less time on student union activities and other traditional University activities such as course representation. This suggests that students are highly sociable, and technologically adept, using new technologies such as Web 2.0 to stay in contact with friends, meet new friends and do business.

  There are a number of groups of students who are not engaged in University activities which co-relates with the categories often broadly defined as "widening participation" students; working class students, minority ethnic students and mature students. This is for a variety of reasons but all of which "disadvantage" students in obtaining what is considered to be the traditional student experience. These widening participation students spend more time studying, are more involved in their families (whether they are mature or not), are involved in more paid part-time work and are therefore unable to spend as much time at University.

  A significant minority were deeply religious and spend time in praying. This was particularly noticeable in the post '92 institution whereas the 1960s South of England institution had a strong secular feel.

Different student group participation

  Different student groups were involved in different types of activities. Young, white, middle-class students tended to be heavily engaged in activities offered by their University and students' union, as well as undertaking a reasonable amount of paid employment. Older students and those from ethnic minority backgrounds spent more time outside the university on family commitments, religious involvement, private study and paid employment; whilst those from lower socio-economic backgrounds spent more time in paid employment and less time studying and engaging in other activities. There were also differences related to discipline studied, for example Science students reported feeling excluded from the students' union.

Different types of institutions also had different participation profiles

Those at the post-'92 institution focused more on career-orientated activities but felt dissatisfied with the lack of social interaction and choices of activities on offer. "Widening participation" students (ie working class students, minority ethnic students and mature students) were less engaged in university activities for a variety of reasons, all of which "disadvantaged" them in obtaining what is considered to be the traditional student experience.

As this is a relatively new area of research further work does need to be undertaken but this study suggests that effort in studying is not the only criteria for success at University. Students do seem to do better if they are more engaged in the whole University than if they have other commitments outside of the University. This research also paints a picture of different groups of students having very different student experiences depending on their socio-economic-cultural background. It also maps the range of activities that University students are involved in.

Alumni and Employers

  Reflections from Alumni highlighted the importance of contacts and friendships which involvement in ECAs provided. The social capital gained was of central importance to their accounts of university progression and subsequent employment. Employers tended to have a mixed view of the value of ECAs, each favouring a different set of experiences. However, "cultural fit" with the company appeared to be universally important, as did activities involving leadership or responsibility, long-term commitment, and achievement. They also emphasised the importance of graduates "selling" their activities, and making full use of their university careers services to do this. The following tables present how different demographics engaged in different activities

PARTICIPATION RATES IN DIFFERENT ACTIVITIES BY STUDENT DEMOGRAPHICS



Overall
Males
Females
Young
Mature
Disabled
L. Needs
Religious
Not religious

count
%
count
%
count
%
count
%
count
%
count
%
count
%
count
%
count
%
Seeing friends
615
98
278
97
336
98
433
99
177
94
14
100
40
95
320
97
291
98
Studying
613
98
274
96
338
98
422
96
187
100
13
93
41
98
323
98
285
96
Films
581
92
260
91
320
93
410
94
166
88
13
93
37
88
300
91
277
94
Existing friends online
567
90
259
91
307
90
421
96
144
77
11
79
38
91
285
86
277
94
Library
554
88
240
84
313
91
372
85
177
94
13
93
38
91
304
92
245
83
Online Communities
530
84
238
83
291
85
382
87
144
77
13
93
34
81
267
81
258
87
Reading other books
517
82
227
79
289
84
355
81
158
84
7
50
28
67
262
79
251
85
Shops/Cafes
520
82
220
77
299
87
373
85
144
77
12
86
36
86
267
81
249
84
Sport
484
77
223
78
261
76
339
77
142
76
10
72
33
79
248
75
231
78
Pubs/Bars
469
74
222
78
246
72
354
81
113
60
8
57
30
71
209
63
256
87
Family Commitments
428
68
185
65
242
70
286
65
138
73
9
64
24
57
249
76
177
60
Music
323
51
148
52
174
51
221
51
98
52
8
57
20
48
175
53
145
49
Employment
311
49
125
44
186
54
218
50
92
49
3
21
19
45
164
50
146
49
Clubs/Societies
288
46
137
48
151
44
198
45
86
46
11
79
33
55
162
49
122
41
Art
293
46
137
48
156
45
209
48
82
44
7
50
24
57
146
44
145
49
Business online
273
43
143
50
130
38
193
44
78
42
8
57
24
57
123
37
147
50
Student Union
230
37
118
41
111
32
183
42
46
25
3
21
17
41
112
34
116
39
Prayer
203
32
76
27
127
37
114
26
85
45
6
43
10
24
194
59
8
3
New friends online
202
32
86
30
116
34
141
32
60
32
5
36
13
31
123
37
76
26
Voluntary Work
93
15
42
15
51
15
58
13
34
18
5
36
10
24
61
19
32
11
Councils/Committees
83
13
49
17
34
10
53
12
28
15
5
36
9
21
54
16
28
10
Course Rep.
60
10
31
11
29
8
37
8
23
12
1
7
6
14
38
12
22
7



PARTICIPATION RATES IN DIFFERENT ACTIVITIES BY STUDENTS' ETHNIC BACKGROUND AND SOCIOECONOMIC STATUS


Overall
White
Black
Asian
Arab/Persian
Lower SES*
Higher SES*
count
%
count
%
count
%
count
%
count
%
count
%
count
%

Seeing friends
615
98
388
99
58
91
112
97
53
93
129
96
431
98
Studying
613
98
379
96
62
97
112
97
56
98
130
97
430
98
Films
581
92
361
92
60
94
106
92
51
90
124
93
402
91
Existing friends online
567
90
363
93
48
75
104
90
49
86
114
85
401
91
Library
554
88
325
83
62
97
108
94
55
97
122
91
383
87
Online Communities
530
84
333
85
51
80
95
83
48
84
108
81
371
84
Reading other books
517
82
325
83
52
81
88
77
49
86
112
84
355
81
Shops/Cafes
520
82
329
84
44
69
96
84
49
86
111
83
360
82
Sport
484
77
295
75
53
83
88
77
47
83
104
78
335
76
Pubs/Bars
469
74
339
87
26
41
67
58
35
61
99
74
333
76
Family Commitments
428
68
235
60
48
75
96
84
46
81
97
72
293
66
Music
323
51
202
52
37
58
53
46
31
54
70
52
226
51
Employment
311
49
184
47
40
63
59
51
26
46
81
60
200
45
Clubs/Societies
288
46
167
43
28
44
60
52
31
54
51
38
207
47
Art
293
46
193
49
23
36
46
40
29
51
60
45
207
47
Business online
273
43
202
52
10
16
37
32
22
39
62
46
192
44
Student Union
230
37
146
37
14
22
55
48
14
25
38
28
170
39
Prayer
203
32
51
13
49
77
71
62
31
54
38
28
140
32
New friends online
202
32
101
26
27
42
49
43
24
42
44
33
138
31
Voluntary Work
93
15
46
12
12
19
20
17
15
26
13
10
69
16
Councils/Committees
83
13
45
12
8
13
22
19
7
12
13
10
57
13
Course Rep.
60
10
35
9
4
6
13
11
7
12
5
4
46
11

*Socio-economic groups (SEG) I—IV (Unemployed, Unskilled trade, Skilled trade, Support worker)** SEG V—VII (Public sector, Modern Professional, Professional)



TIME SPENT ON ACTIVITIES AT OLD AND NEW UNIVERSITIES

1 = none; 2= once a week; 3= 2/3 times a week; 4= 4/5 times a week; 5 = every day



SIGNIFICANT CORRELATIONS BETWEEN EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES AND SELF-REPORTED MARKS


Self-reported marks

Time spent studying
.19**
No. of university-based activities engaged in
.12**
Having experience as a course representative
.09*
Time spend reading
.08*

* correlation significant at the 5% level; ** correlation significant at the 1% level


  The key message from this work suggests that engagement in university life is very important to student success. While obviously studying and reading is essential to success, the important finding of this research is that being part of University life also seems to affect success. These findings are even more significant when we looked at the results from our third research project set out below.

ESRC—The Impact of Social Identity and Cultural Capital on Different Ethnic Student Groups at University (2007-09)

  This project is currently nearing completion so results presented here are tentative. Based on responses from 820 students at four different institutions with very different profiles, it examined the HE environment, students' sense of feeling comfortable at University and their identification with their institution, their preferred teaching and learning styles and their academic progress in order to assess how different ethnic groups can be best supported to succeed in their studies. Following the quantitative phase, focus groups and longer in-depth educational life history interviews were conducted.

The National Student Survey highlighted that minority ethnic groups are less satisfied with their higher education (HE) experience than other groups of students (Surridge 2006). A recent DfES report (Brooke & Nicolls, 2007) pointed out that although participation of students from minority ethnic countries in HE is higher their degree outcomes, by class of degree, are markedly lower than their white peers. The limited research available on the needs and experiences of minority ethnic students highlights the importance of students' racial identity (Gallineau, 2003) and sense of belonging or alienation (Calbrese & Poe, 1990; Connors, Tyers, Modood & Hillage 2004; Archer et.al. 2003) as main factors for positive learning experiences and outcomes. Ball (2002) points out that minority ethnic students make choices about HE study based on how "friendly" they regard the institution. This research sought to examine some of these factors in more detail.

  On analysis of the material, our initial findings showed that "belonging" and "identification" were conceptualised and experienced differently across ethnic groups.

University for Study and University for Fun

  Peer support and academic self-esteem appeared to play a more important role in ethnic minority students' sense of identification and belonging, suggesting the importance of social capital and academic confidence for enabling these students to "fit in" at university. Ethnic minority students viewed university as primarily "for study", prioritising academic concerns over their social life and reporting more positive feelings towards their institutions such as a sense of pride and connection.

By contrast, white students tended to view university as primarily "for friendship", viewing higher education as a time for personal development, socialising and "having fun". They described ways in which their friendship networks indirectly benefited their studies, giving them the social confidence and knowledge to collaborate with peers, or successfully seek out extra help and support.

  Ethnic minority students, particularly Black students, despite their stronger focus on study appeared to be missing out on many of the benefits of social capital at university. These inequalities were often compounded by students' early educational experiences (often mediated through other demographic factors such as ethnicity, SES and gender), which influenced their focus on study and/or friendship at university, as well as their expectations, knowledge and uptake of peer, teacher and institutional support.

Comfort Zone and University Identification

  To explore different ethnic student groups' experiences of social identity and sense of belonging in higher education, we created two new variables. "Comfort Zone" measures how well students "fit in" at their university, and refers to how physically comfortable they feel in and around the university itself. "University Identification" measures positive feelings towards the university, including feelings of pride and identification with peers.

The table shows that these two variables are very important for students of all ethnicities for a variety of key academic outcomes, but particularly for social capital concerns.

  Ethnic minority students' comfort zone and university identity are more strongly associated with peer support and engagement in activities that provide a good social network, suggesting the importance of social capital for helping these students "fit in" at university. White students' comfort zone and university identity are associated with time spent seeing friends outside class, and engaging in university-based extra-curricular activities, suggesting that these students are finding their peer support in different contexts. See below for the co-relations of significance of these factors for different ethnic groups.

CORRELATES OF IDENTIFICATION AND BELONGING—FEELING AT HOME OR COMFORTABLE AT UNIVERSITY FOR DIFFERENT ETHNIC GROUPS


"UNIVERSITY IDENTIFICATION"
"COMFORT ZONE"
WHITE
BLACK
ASIAN
AR/PERS
MIXED
OTHER
WHITE
BLACK
ASIAN
AR/PERS
MIXED
OTHER

comfort zone
.33**
.56**
.32**
.44*
-
.57**
university ID
.33**
.56**
.32**
.44*
-
.57**
ac. esteem
.40**
.42**
.31**
-
.42*
-
ac. esteem
.31**
.53**
.46**
.51**
-
-
peer support
.43**
.48**
.38**
.40*
-
.53**
peer support
.33**
.53**
.46**
.63**
-
.73**
well-being
.29**
.22*
.28**
-
.38*
-
well-being
.30**
.42**
.43**
-
.47**
-
social net.
.23**
.23*
-
-
-.49**
-
social
.18**
25**
.26**
-
-
.40*
uni activities
.24**
-
-
-
-
.44*
uni activities
.15**
-
-
-
-
-
friends
.11*
-
-
-
-
-
friends
-
-
-
-
-
-
marks
-
-
-
-
-
-
marks
.17**
.24**
-
-
-
-
n
400
121
146
27
30
25
n
400
121
146
27
30
25

Note.
social net. = my commitments and activities provide me with a good social network of friends
uni activities = total number of different university-based ECAs engaged in
friends = number of days per week spend seeing friends


  In addition to showing that comfort zone and university identity are conceptualised and experienced differently across ethnicities, our findings showed some worrying differences in key academic outcomes across ethnic groups. Black students reported significantly lower levels of peer support at university compared to other ethnic groups, and Asian students reported significantly lower levels of well-being at university.

As mentioned before ethnic minority students, particularly Black students, despite a stronger focus on study appear to be missing out on many of the benefits of social capital at university. Students who are "first generation" have less "insider knowledge" about their institutions' social support networks, and this can be compounded by an early lack of institutional and peer support at school level among ethnic minority students that can shape their patterns of formal and informal learning. Thus, students' early educational experiences (often mediated through other demographic factors such as ethnicity, SES and gender) influence their focus on study and/or friendship at university, as well as their expectations, knowledge and uptake of peer, teacher and institutional support. Again there is further work to do in this area and this is an initial study but the results suggest that there are important factors that affect student success that are less tangible than just curriculum or teaching styles.

  This research is currently being completed and the report will be submitted to the ESRC in July of 2009.

Institutional Research at Kingston University

  In addition to the work I have conducted as a researcher, as a senior manager at a University I have established a student experience project in partnership with our students' union to examine our students' experience. This includes annual surveys, focus groups and interviews and a Kingston Observer Project. These are all in their infancy but should you wish to discuss this further, I would be happy to talk about the project.

January 2009

REFERENCESArcher, L., Hutchings, M., Ross, A. (with Leathwood, C.), Gilchrist, R., & Phillips, D. (2003) Social class and higher education: issues of exclusion and inclusion (London, Routledge Palmer).

Ball, S., (2002) "Ethnic Choosing": minority ethnic students, social class and higher education choice, Race, Ethnicity and Education Vol 5 No. 4

Beck U (1992) The Risk Society Towards a New Modernity London: Sage

Beck U Giddens A and Lash S (1994) Reflexive Modernization Politics, Tradition and Aesthetics in the Modern Social Order Cambridge: Polity Press

Brooke, S., & Nicolls, T., (2007) Ethnicity & Degree Attainment, DfES Research Report RW92.

Brown, R. & Evans, W.P. (2002). Extracurricular activity and ethnicity. Creating greater school connection among diverse student populations. Urban Education, 37 (1), 41-58.

Calabrese, R & Poe, J (1990). Alienation: An exploration of high dropout rates among African American and Latino students. Educational Research Quarterly, 14, 22-26.

Connor, H., Tyers, C., Modood, T., Hillage, J., (2004) Why the Difference? A closer look at higher education minority ethnic students and graduates, DfES Research Report RR552

Gallineau, TL (2003). How minority students experience college: Implications for planning and policy. Child Study Journal, 33, 71-72.

Green, H., (2005) What has happened to postgraduate taught (PGT)? News, UK Council for Graduate Education, February 2005, 48

Gorard, S. Rees, G., Fevre, R. (1999) Patterns of participation in lifelong learning: do families make a difference?, British Educational Research Journal, 25, (4) 517-532

Hatt, S., Baxter, A. and Tate, J. (2005) Who benefits from widening participation? A study of targeting in the South West of England, Journal of further and Higher Education, 29 (4) Nov, 341-351

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342   Professor of Higher Education and Deputy Vice Chancellor, Kingston University. Back


 
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