Towards a critical theory of access and retention in Irish Higher Education

Fleming, Ted and Finnegan, Fergal (2010) Towards a critical theory of access and retention in Irish Higher Education. In: 40th Annual SCUTREA Conference, 6-8 July 2010, University of Warwick, Coventry.


The themes of respect, confidence and self-esteem emerging in the interviews undertaken as part the RANLHE research project have been both striking and thought provoking. This has forced us to reconsider what is at stake when students talk about studying in university. The students we spoke to were clearly not seeking status or prestige alone but rather recognition, which touches on both one’s ‘private’ sense of self and one’s ‘public’ self. Intersubjective recognition has emerged as a key theme in our data and has been central in students’ accounts of their motivation for applying to college and their determination ‘to stay the course.’ This has offered us some new insights about the successful formation of learner identity, student motivation and retention. We are in the process of identifying the broader pedagogical, institutional and social implications. What is not being proposed is that all the issues that have emerged from a grounded examination of the data can be understood under the rubric of recognition but that this is one highly significant and under-theorised aspect of student experience that merits careful consideration.The extent to which students have chosen to foreground these issues in their stories has surprised us. Our sensitising concepts reflected our previous engagement with critical theory, critical pedagogy, social psychology and the reflexive sociology of Pierre Bourdieu (Johnston et al., 2009).

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