By Ellen Logan (Ellen.firstname.lastname@example.org)
As part of SEED’s Teaching Matters seminar series, in November we welcomed RECLAIM to share with us the experiences of working class students to consider how the university can work to improve the attainment, wellbeing and retention of working class students.
Led by Terry Mayeh (pictured above), from youth leadership and social change organisation RECLAIM, the discussion centred on the types of barriers working class students face during their time at university, with an emphasis on ‘imposter syndrome’ and the lacking of sufficient support and structures.
In 2016 RECLAIM conducted research into the experiences of working class students across a number of universities. This research was used to set up the groundbreaking, student-led programme Educating All. Working in collaboration with universities, Educating All creates bespoke, student-centred solutions/recommendations to address the barriers working class students experience in higher education.
“We often assume students know what support is offered, where to find it, and have the confidence to ask for it. Spaces must be created to allow students to open up about the challenges they face: but too often decisions are made without consulting the very people they affect.
A lack of entitlement, sometimes described as ‘imposter syndrome’, coupled with limited knowledge and understanding of higher education institutions and processes can damage the performance and retention of students, and prevent them seeking support.
Educating All is built from the resilience working-class students are forced to develop. Through our programmes, led, designed and delivered by working-class young people; we create authentic solutions, based on our lived experiences to improve the recruitment, retention, attainment, and well-being of working-class students.
Everything starts by listening, usually in informal conversations in which participants are encouraged to explore the barriers and challenges they have faced. This is then used to develop solutions which can range from establishing alumni and peer support schemes, mentors, tailored inductions to implementing specific financial and academic support to match the unique needs of the students.”
With both academics and self-identified working class students in attendance, there was some very open and interesting discussion. The students spoke about ‘imposter syndrome’ and confidence; they frequently don’t feel confident in speaking out in lectures and seminars, or questioning areas they don’t understand, in – what they feel – contrast to their peers. They also said that they feel there is an academic language barrier, which is exacerbated by issues with confidence.
Some of the academic staff in the seminar asked the two students exactly how they think university staff can best support these students. For academic staff, they said, student backgrounds are generally anonymous and so they will only know a student’s specific circumstances if said student self-identifies. This does mean more of the onus is on the student to approach a member of staff.
The students made the point that as working class students are often unaware of the structures in place to support them, universities need to take this into consideration and implement measures to ensure all students know the support available to them. To encourage student’s approaching staff, one of the students suggested that staff provide all students with examples of the sorts of issues they can approach them with, such as difficulties with the language used in lectures, financial problems, problems with balancing care work/studies/part-time jobs etc.
The seminar made it clear that there is a long way to go, but having open and honest conversations is definitely a good start.
For further information about Educating All programme, please contact email@example.com.
If you are interested in delivering a seminar for SEED’s Teaching Matters series, please contact Drew Whitworth and/or Jen O’Brien (firstname.lastname@example.org; Jennifer.email@example.com)