Continuity and change : a study of how women cope with the transition to professional programmes of higher education
The aims of the present study were to investigate how women manage the transition to professional programmes of higher education and to identify what might assist and hinder their coping. Initial conceptualisations were based on an assumption that there would be an interaction between the different spheres in which the women operate; the private, the professional and higher education. The literature reveals a preoccupation with either psychological or social factors but there is a lack of theory which integrates these and 'solutions' put forward, aimed at assisting women in education, are broad and general. The investigation took place in a School of a British University where the professional areas chosen were social work and health care education. A feminist ethnographic approach using multiple methods of data collection was taken. However, as the central focus was an investigation of subjective accounts a phenomenological perspective was adopted and the methods used were mainly qualitative. The investigation took place over two phases, covering the period of transition to programmes over two consecutive years. The overarching theme to emerge is the importance of continuities in terms of what women 'bring' from the private sphere and their professional context. Aspects of these continuities were found to centrally impinge upon the women's sense of who they are and their current situation, and arise from their social situation. Higher education does not always recognise the importance of these continuities. The private sphere, the professional Context and higher education are conceptualised as 'greedy institutions', with competing demands and value bases. It is the movement between these contexts which causes problems for women. An integrative framework based largely on Breakwell's (1986) theory of coping with threatened identity is developed. The framework is extended to include a feminist analysis of the social context in order to understand the women's coping. Specific suggestions are put forward to assist mature women students 'manage' the transition.