Recording and recognising the experiences of estranged students in higher education: a participatory research project using photo-elicitation

Spacey, Rachel (2018) Recording and recognising the experiences of estranged students in higher education: a participatory research project using photo-elicitation. In: BERA Conference 2018, 11-13 September, Northumbria Unviersity.

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Recording and recognising the experiences of estranged students in higher education: a participatory research project using photo-elicitation
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Over the past two decades there has been a plethora of research studies in higher education (HE) focusing on specific groups or cohorts of students, including, but not confined to commuter students (Southall et al., 2016), first-generation or first in family students (Terenzini et al., 1996), Black and Minority Ethnic students (Singh, 2009), mature students (Bowl, 2001) and students from working class backgrounds (Reay et al., 2002) amongst others. However, there is little research exploring the experiences of university students who are estranged from their families. Estranged students are at university without the support of their family and may no longer be in communication with their biological or adoptive parents; “No communicative relationship with either of their living biological parents and often their wider family networks as well” (OFFA, 2017). The situation of estranged students in HE has been highlighted by the charity Stand Alone which supports adults who have become estranged from their family. Stand Alone and the Unite Foundation’s research into the experiences of estranged students, New Starts, highlighted the lack of qualitative research undertaken with estranged students to understand their experiences of HE. They suggest that one of the biggest barriers estranged students face is a lack of understanding around family estrangement such that it is regarded as taboo: “Stand Alone has found that societal knowledge and awareness regarding family estrangement and disownment is currently low but, conversely, stigma is high” (p.24).

This presentation reports on a small scale research project funded by a Lincoln Higher Education Research Award 2017/18. This photo-elicitation project aimed to address this gap in knowledge with a qualitative study of estranged students at a post-1992 University in England. According to data from 2015 there were approximately 70 estranged students at this institution (Stand Alone, 2017). This project aimed to recruit between 4 and 6 estranged students to take a series of images using their mobile phone, tablet or digital camera, before, during and after a university vacation. This period of time is significant since it is assumed most students will return home and spend time with their families over the vacation. The students were then asked to share their images with each other in a focus group whilst research questions explored perceptions of support, belonging and home with a view to the findings being used to raise awareness of the existence and issues facing estranged students at the university. Photo-elicitation was considered a useful approach to adopt since it can provide participants with an “opportunity to share their views and influence the research process more fully” (Vigurs & Kara, 2017, p. 513). The presentation also explores the challenges faced by the researcher in identifying and recruiting estranged university students to a funded research project. It will be of interest to both academics and professionals in the field with an interest in supporting students without recourse to family support to access, remain and succeed in higher education.

Keywords:Estranged students, Estrangement, Photo-elicitation, Student experience, University holidays
Subjects:X Education > X342 Academic studies in Higher Education
Divisions:Professional services > Lincoln Higher Education Research Institute
ID Code:33510
Deposited On:18 Oct 2018 14:42

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