Getting Diverse Students and Staff to Talk about Equality and Social Integration Issues on Higher Education Campuses in India and the UK
Thornton, Mary, Bricheno, Patricia, Iyer, Ponni, Reid, Ivan, Wankhede, Govardhan, Green, Roger, Research in Education
This paper reports on the interim findings of a three-year funded UK-India Education and Research Initiative (UKIERI) collaborative project between UK and Indian academics on Widening Participation in Higher Education, covering five different higher education institutions (HEIs), three in the UK and two in India. The project is primarily concerned with enhancing equality, social justice, integration and social cohesion within the current globalised, market oriented context of higher education (HE). Its main aims are to explore the nature of social cohesion and integration, separation, equality and discrimination experienced by diverse, minority, disadvantaged and under-represented students attending HE in the UK and India.
The initial stages of our research involved inviting students and staff (both from academic and student support areas), located in the five HEIs, to keep a record (written and photographic) of what for them seemed to be important and relevant events relating to what they saw, heard, did and experienced on their campus for a period of one month, in teaching, learning and social situations; we cited possible examples they could use, such as interactions in classes and social settings·, what seemed to be good experiences and what seemed to be negative ones; how and if their particular knowledge and experiences were used, valued and incorporated into their HE experience and learning or how they were negated.
Although a sample size of 90 record keepers was initially sought across the five participating institutions, obtaining that sample presented significant difficulties to all but one of the HEIs. This raised questions for the research team regarding the methods initially adopted, of cultural differences in ways of accessing respondents to take part in the research, and the general willingness (or not as it appeared in many cases) of HE students and staff to address and share issues relating to diversity, equality, social cohesion and integration on their campuses with researchers. As a result additional data collection methods were adopted and the intended sample size was almost met (88 of which 85 were used). This paper addresses the problems encountered in gaining that initial sample, how they were eventually overcome and with what result.
The project overall takes as its starting point that in order to be better prepared for and to thrive in social networks and work-related arenas which are increasingly diverse, multicultural, interdependent and global it is essential that students are helped to develop and value intercultural knowledge and skills during their education, and that all HE staff, students and campuses should model the integration, cohesion and social interaction that underpins their development. However, this desired outcome is not readily achieved. Advancement of disadvantaged people/ widening participation initiatives in both India and the UK have brought with them problems around lack of integration and social cohesion (Carroll 8c Ryan, 2005; Wankhede, 2002). The potential benefits of cross-cultural learning and enrichment are being lost through student segregation, isolation, alienation and, in some cases, ghetto-isation (Hyland et al., 2008).
Yet educational environments are potentially important sites for the development of intercultural knowledge and skills, and for the enhancement of social cohesion and integration. Research reported by Bloom (2008:42) found that 'school friendship groups were more diverse than out-of-school groups' in the secondary schools studied, and it seems likely that this might also be the case in further education and HE environments as well. They are, in most instances, places where people from diverse backgrounds and cultures come together. As such they offer opportunities for intercultural mixing and greater diversity within study, work, friendship, and social groupings, from which greater integration and social cohesion might emerge and through which those important inter-cultural skills and perspectives might develop. …