An exploration of the nature and meaning of transitions in the context of dual sector fe/he institutions in England

Students’ experience of transition

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Students’ experience of transition

While HE may be seen as a ‘possible’, ‘not unreasonable’ future (Bourdieu and Passeron, 1990: 227) for an increasing number of people in England now, this does not mean that all forms of HE are taken-for-granted (Bourdieu and Wacquant, 1992) by all students. As Reay et al (2005) observed in their research:

Students needed to be aware of particular segments of the higher education market depending on their own specific positioning within the field, which in turn, as we have seen, is influenced by institutional habitus. (Reay et al, 2005, p52)

In looking at transitions in our study, therefore, we do not only look at the student experience. To understand the work that goes on around widening participation and the expansion of the HE system, we found it important to heed Bourdieu and Passeron’s observation:

An approach which takes as its unit the individual student, ignoring the position that the establishment or course receiving him [sic] occupies in the overt or hidden hierarchy of the academic institution, misses the doubling-up of privilege stemming from the fact that the categories with the best chances of entering a given level of education are also the categories with the best chances of entering the establishments, sections or subjects conferring the best chances of subsequent success, both academic and social. (Bourdieu and Passeron, 1990, 231)

What we have found in the context of our case study college, are contradictory processes of positioning, where there is not necessarily a fit between students’ expectations and horizons for action, the operation of the college in relation to higher education and the strategic positioning of the institution by senior managers. In the next part of the paper, we look at FE/HE transitions as experienced in the context of East Heath College.

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