RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2017

RGS-IBG Logo
Add to my calendar:    Outlook   Google   Hotmail/Outlook.com   iPhone/iPad   iCal (.ics)

Please note that some mobile devices may require third party apps to add appointments to your calendar


359 Constructing the higher education student: understanding spatial variations (1)
Affiliation Geographies of Children, Youth and Families Research Group
Convenor(s) Rachel Brooks (University of Surrey, UK)
Johanna Waters (University of Oxford, UK)
Chair(s) Rachel Brooks (University of Surrey, UK)
Timetable Friday 01 September 2017, Session 3 (14:40 - 16:20)
Room Huxley Building, Room 341
Session abstract Many scholars have argued that, in contemporary society, higher education policy and practice have both been profoundly changed by globalising pressures. Indeed, some have contended that the state’s capacity to control education has been significantly limited by the growth of both international organisations and transnational companies (Ball, 2007) and that the three traditional models of university education in Europe (Humboldtian, Napoleonic and Anglo-Saxon) have been replaced by a single Anglo-American model, characterised by, inter alia, competition, marketisation, decentralisation and a focus on entrepreneurial activity. Nevertheless, this analysis is not universally held. For example, not all European nations have sought to establish elite universities or maximise revenue through attracting international students, and significant differences remain in the way in which higher education is funded. In explaining such variations, scholars have pointed to differences in political dynamics, politico-administrative structures and intellectual traditions, as well as the flexibility and mutability of neo-liberal ideas themselves. However, research to date has focussed primarily on the extent of convergence (or divergence) with respect to top-level policies; as a result, little work has explored the perspectives of social actors, nor the ways in which policy may be ‘enacted’ locally, in ways that diverge from formal policy documents.

In this session we bring together papers that explore the ways in which ‘the higher education student’ is constructed across different spatial contexts. We include papers that draw on data derived from students themselves, as well as from other social actors (such as the media, policymakers and higher education staff). We anticipate that they will speak to debates about what it means to be a young person within the contemporary university, as well as to those that relate more specifically to the geographies of higher education.
Linked Sessions Constructing the higher education student: understanding spatial variations (2)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2017@rgs.org
Constructing ‘spaces’ of student friendship: understanding the socio-spatial co-production of friendship in UK university halls of residences
Mark Holton (University of Plymouth, UK)
In an era where social networks hinge less upon propinquity and more through technology and mobility, friendship can be recognised as a complex but fundamental component of the construction of the contemporary higher education student. While students’ friendships are thought to be constituted along the lines of trust, activity and communication, their slippery temporal (and occasionally temporary) nature makes understanding their socio-spatial characteristics a complex and contradictory process. Friendship can, at times, be a murky prism to ponder, simultaneously fluctuating between the virtual and the proximate; the stable and the fleeting; the emotional and the material (Bunnell et al., 2012). Through an examination of young UK university students’ experiences of friendship whilst living in shared halls of residences, this paper explores the significant role of friendship in the co-production of shared-living, particularly for mobile students who are interacting [with]in new social and living environments. Friendships are intrinsically tied to relationships with place and processes of place-making and rely on the ability to enact social identities among ‘people like us’ (Fincher & Shaw, 2011). Hence it is important to scrutinise how embodied and collective emotions and interactions may shape friendships and subsequently inform identities, experiences and habits among students. To achieve this the paper explores (1) how student friendship networks are co-produced in and through the spaces of shared accommodation, (2) in what way student friendships inform other social networks that stretch beyond shared spaces and (3) how external friendships are managed and incorporated (or not) back into shared accommodation.
Cohortness and more-than-neoliberal subjectivities: (mis)fitting into student life
Peter Kraftl (University of Birmingham, UK)
Gavin Brown (University of Leicester, UK)
This paper argues for greater attention to what we term ‘cohortness’ in understanding young people’s – and especially students’ – everyday lives. We argue that thinking in terms of cohorts enables an alternative way to examine how students perform, feel and express their subjectivities both within and beyond the terms of neoliberal tropes. Our analysis is based upon an ongoing research-education project, which has currently run for 6 years and involved over 300 Year 3 undergraduate students at a post-1992 UK University. The project involved large groups of students engaging in an exercise on ‘mis/fitting’, which encouraged them to articulate (as individuals and groups) which identities it was ‘easy’ to perform/hold/display as students, and which it was not. The project also involved a range of subsequent reflective discussions with each group. Our data provide striking insights into how year groups produce ‘cohortness’ in different ways. In this paper, we focus upon four key themes, which are underpinned by an often ambivalent articulation of contemporary neoliberal ideals: mixtures of deliberation and chance in the production of in-class, intertextual dialogues; the intersection of norms and commonalities in the naming of some identity groups (such as sporting interests) and hiding of others (such as fandom); the significance of personality, performative and/or bodily traits compared with other aspects of identity; and, the intertwining of work/study identities with future aspirations.
Black and minority ethnic experiences of a university campus in northern England
Graeme Mearns (Newcastle University, UK)
Peter Hopkins (Newcastle University, UK)
Notwithstanding rigorous efforts to document university populations in response to the Equality Act (2010), a lot of British campuses remain far from diverse. The wider 'under attainment' of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) groups is long-term problem that cannot be attributed to factors of access and participation alone (Richardson, 2013). Irrespective of other axes of differentiation like gender, BME students in HE take longer to complete their studies, more frequently fail to finish their programme and/or 'drop out' of HE altogether. For Mirza, the invisibility of BME staff and students on British campuses is the biggest problem, with the abolishment of maintenance grants in September 2016 being a further blow to those at the intersection of race, ethnicity and low incomes. She argues that universities are 'targeting Black bodies to point at how many they've got but the world of university remains one of monolithic Whiteness' (Reisz, 2016). Data from the Higher Education Statistics Authority adds weight to Mirza's claims, showing that not one Black academic has occupied a senior management role at any British university for three consecutive years (Haslam, 2017). This paper shares initial findings of research that aims to understand how social and spatial relations are constructed, contested and (re)imagined by students and staff of diverse BME backgrounds. We analyse some of particularities of 'the higher education student' according to social and spatial relations on a specific university campus in the north of England. The paper calls for greater use of intersectional approaches within the field to strengthen equality and diversity in the HE sector more broadly.
The role of the university - and therefore the student?
Richard Budd (Liverpool Hope University, UK)
While we are able to see, globally, the same broad trends in the funding and governance of higher education, these can transpire in quite different ways at the national. For example, while UK higher education to some extent has come to represent an archetypal ‘knowledge economy’ system, German universities have been somewhat (but not entirely) insulated from changes in the same vein. This raises important questions about what it might mean to be a student in each country, particularly situated around the often wielded – but seldom empirically explored – metaphor of the ‘student as customer’.

Drawing on interviews with German and UK – specifically English – undergraduates, this paper identifies in their accounts broadly converging and also subtly divergent national notions of the ethos and role of the university. This, alongside the widely accepted observation that individual perspectives and experiences vary, suggests that the corresponding role of the student in each country may also be similar and different in certain ways. It becomes clearer, too, that any (nationally-embedded) university's own setting has a part to play, and any consideration of the position of the student must include not only the global and national, but also the local and personal.
The meaning of discipline in constructing the implied student in higher education
Lene Møller Madsen (University of Copenhagen, Denmark)
Lars Ulriksen (University of Copenhagen, Denmark)
Henriette Tolstrup Holmegaard (University of Copenhagen, Denmark)
There are no tuition fees, students receive a monthly non-refundable governmental grant, and admission is based on upper secondary school grades. This setting frame the expectations and notions of being a student in Denmark. It produces a strong responsibility on the individual student; we assume that every young have access to higher education and that completion is a matter of talent, individual effort, and whether student’s work hard enough during their studies. As a consequence, class and gender for example are not pointed out as influential in the public discourse on the participation and retention of students - instead a lot of attention is payed to whether students use their time efficiently. Research, however has shown, that Danish students achievements do not depend on the student alone. The discipline and its culture play a significant role in the student’s negotiation processes and influences participation and retention. In the presentation, we unfold a longitudinal study where we followed students through their first year at an interdisciplinary bachelor programme. We give examples of how students’ engage and negotiate with the interdisciplinary curriculum and culture to balance their expectations of the programme with their experiences of teaching, and views of possible futures.