Clever but not posh

My research indicates that working class adult women in HE, via Access to HE programmes, often have several attempts at completing their further and/or higher education. Working class adult women attribute their final success to a number of factors, two of which will be the focus of this presentation, based upon research for my EdD thesis: Clever but not Posh. Firstly, the connection this group of women have with working class academics and the sense of seeing ‘people like me’, are strong motivators in university choice and experience for nontraditional adult learners. Secondly the creation of their own ‘social capital’ via student and family networks acts as more than a safety net and motivating force. However, my research suggests that the connections with tutors and a sense of being ‘Clever but not Posh’ enable corking-class students to choose institutions and courses based on interactions at Open Days. Students value the relationship with working-class academics as they ‘speak their language’ and are seen as supportive – this relationship constitutes an institutional habitus and fosters success in working-class women students. The idea that this group of students do not ‘belong’ can be reinforced by several factors: that these relational activities are not valued in the academy, notions of the ‘aloof academic’, and those who insist on ignoring their class experiences and insisting that they have to write ‘other people’s words’ in a way that is devoid of passion and emotion. The working-class academic, if visible in the academy, attaches importance to nurturing these women, building rapport, expectations of success, and forging friendships. This detaches traditional notions of power and status associated with the university lecturer, and the relationship becomes characterised by a focus on critical pedagogy and ethics of care.

This research is located within Critical Theory, using narrative inquiry to understand the educational experiences of working-class adult learners. The research conducted over the last year indicate that smaller, post-92 universities are the choice of working-class women students, that they make choices based on emotional connections, locality, family recommendations and how welcoming they perceive the institution and their academic staff to be. These findings give rise to the following points for discussion: what is a working-class academic? How can their visibility be encouraged? What strategies can be employed to allow working-class adult women to feel a sense of belonging and thus ensure their academic success?