BU’s pioneering Fair Access Research project has brought together students, SUBU, professional, service and academic staff from across the university to develop and expand expertise and reflexive practice in the field of fair access to higher education.
Each member of the team has brought different knowledge and experiences to a series of innovative research projects exploring what it means to be a ‘non-traditional’ student in the 21st century. FAR has inspired new ways of thinking about fair access and widening participation through this ‘whole institution approach’,
The team has explored all the different stages in the student lifecycle developing an understanding of the challenges some students face in accessing or succeeding at university, how university is experienced by diverse groups of students and how the university can support them in the optimum way when they are here.
The Fair Access Research (FAR) team have been working with students to explore what it means to be a non-traditional student at university through the student voice, using photovoice, a participatory photographic and story technique.
The undergraduates involved in the research, who were from widening participation (WP) backgrounds, became research co-creators. They took photographs to represent their experiences of being a non-traditional student in higher education which they shared within their group then explored and analysed further together. The students then wrote short excerpts relating to their individual photographs.
The stories and photographs were then shared at a workshop as part of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Festival of Social Science held at BU. Academics and WP practitioners from a variety of different universities attended the workshop to interpret and explore the impact of the students’ stories. Participants engaged in co-creation, listening to students’ voices, learning from their stories, hearing about the photovoice research method and working together to develop practical responses to some of the challenges which the stories presented.
The themes which emerged through an analysis of the research data include the concepts of transition, connectedness and the journey. The images and associated stories told by the students were then shared with a group of BU media students who created the video montage above.
One of the central tenets of the photovoice method is that the participatory approach is used to inform policymakers so that meaningful policy changes can be shaped in unison with the lived experiences of the communities the policies are intended to serve. Listening to students’ voices and hearing students’ own stories of their lived experiences of university can help ensure that policies are developed and implemented that work with the lives and needs of non-traditional students.