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Title: Dimensions of belonging : rethinking retention for mature part-time undergraduates in English higher education
Author: Thomas, Kate
ISNI:       0000 0004 5914 5642
Awarding Body: Birkbeck, University of London
Current Institution: Birkbeck (University of London)
Date of Award: 2016
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This thesis critiques and re-imagines a dominant narrative of contemporary English higher education: that belonging is critical to student retention and success (Thomas 2012). It does so through a qualitative multiple case study of four English higher education institutions, and in relation to mature part-time undergraduates, peripherally positioned in the sector. Institution-centric definitions and measurements of retention are incompatible with the complex lives of a diverse part-time student cohort, as are uniform concepts of belonging which rely on a common understanding of what belonging is (Mee and Wright 2009), and which are modelled on a ‘typical’ young, full-time undergraduate. Drawing on spatial, psychosocial and psychogeographical ideas, the thesis maps a wider and more nuanced territory of retention and belonging in English higher education, rethinking retention and belonging as contested and dimensional. Belonging in higher education is theorised through concepts of space and power, and within the framework of a borderland analysis (Abes, 2009) which thrives on complexity, and which values both synergies and productive tensions in the interdisciplinary spaces between distinct theoretical approaches. Bourdieu’s ‘thinking tools’: habitus, capital and field; Brah’s concepts of diaspora and diaspora space and Massey’s spatial concepts are combined to conceptualise each case study institution as a site of power and knowledge in which dominant identities are constructed and construct ‘the other, resulting in different experiences of belonging in the space of HE. Bespoke research methods enable the researcher to practise spatiality in a highly active manner (Massey, 2005) and the findings disrupt the dominant narrative of belonging and retention, emphasising instead a rich territory of the in between: of persistence and shared ownership, and of belonging for mature part-time undergraduates as a complex, negotiated process in the contested space of higher education.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available