Open University Widening Participation Conference: reflections


Image courtesy of Milton Keynes Council

Two weeks’ ago our Fair Access Researchers, Clive, Ed, Lizzie and Alex went to Milton Keynes for the Open University’s international widening participation conference, Transforming Lives Through Life-Wide Learning. It was a really stimulating two days of papers, plenaries and workshops. And it was a real privilege to spend time with so many dedicated practitioners and researchers.

Our PhD Students, Ed and Lizzie, presented on their research on using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis for widening participation.

Here are Ed’s reflections:

I found the event thought provoking, creating more questions than answers (in a good way). The workshops were a good mix of practice and research. The event demonstrated the passion of people who work in WP to want to make a difference. It also helps to set the context of your own work within the field.

This is the biggest event that i have attended and presented at so far in my PhD. I hope the presentation was well received and enabled people to understand how IPA may be able to be applied to WP research.

Alex presented on research about how institutions are engaging with research to support and enhance the experiences of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) students in their access agreements. Drawing on the work of Sara Ahmed and the idea of “non-performative speech acts“, Alex argued that there is a real risk that institutional policies could exacerbate feelings of isolation. She stressed that there are dangers in narrowly focusing on “attainment gaps”, without any infrastructure to address how racialsed oppression structures society and without any reflection on, and challenge to, the persistent and insidious ways higher education perpetuates this.

Here are Alex’s reflections:

It was a real privilege listening to the experiences and thoughts of colleagues to help improve the thinking and practice of this research. I am really proud to be working in this field with so many amazing people!

Some of the highlights of the conference included a workshop by Jacqueline Stevenson about finding ways for universities to support refugees and asylum seekers to access education. Article 26 is a project working in partnership with universities to create packages of support for students seeking asylum, including a full tuition fee bursary and additional funding.

Jennifer Randall and Sian Jones shared a fantastic teaching and learning approach that embedded emancipatory pedagogies with skills development and civic engagement.

Amanda French and Michelle Kempson outlined their work supporting transitions of students using empowering and arts-based methods.

We would like to thank all the organisers and all the participants for such a wonderfully provocative event!

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