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What is the Role of Academic Support in Contemporary UK HE?

Ashmore, Tracey Louise (2018) What is the Role of Academic Support in Contemporary UK HE? Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (KAR id:73885)

Language: English

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The role of academic support has historically lacked prominence in UK HE, only emerging in literature in the 1990s despite practices pre-dating this. Consequently research is limited and tends to focus on evaluating best practice e.g. academic literacies versus broad skills; embedded versus bolt-on; and centralised versus devolved approaches. According to Bourdieu, however, practices are shaped by an interplay between 'context' - the rules, dominant capital and power positions of a field, and 'perceptions' - habitus, capital and subsequent positions of agents (Bourdieu, 1984; 1998). Therefore in order to evaluate the practices of academic support services it is necessary to consider context - both political and institutional, and perceptions of purpose - of both HE as well as academic support.

The aim of this thesis is to evaluate critically the role of academic support in contemporary UK HE. The following questions offer a breakdown of this enquiry:

1. How do academic support practitioners perceive their role?

2. How are practitioner perceptions influenced by the larger policy context?

To answer these questions I carried out and thematically analysed data from 17 interviews with 5 academic support teams, as well as reviewing key UK HE reports and policy (1963-2016), and literature pertaining to the purpose and practices of UK HE academic support.

Analysis revealed academic support roles to be mediating a complex mix of conflicting powers (political, institutional and academic) and conflicts between economic, social and cultural values and priorities. These conflicts are embodied in three opposing, but coexisting, approaches to academic support: 'remedial', development and business. While 'remedial' and business are politically driven - underpinned by competition, commerce and commodity; development arises from the humanistic and social values of academic support practitioners and their desire to empower individuals for social and cultural progression.

Development is characterised by liberal values of developing higher thinking (emotion and intellect) through the support of knowledge acquisition (self and subject); thus enabling individuals to have more fulfilling lives and contribute more meaningfully to society. In contrast 'remedial' involves overcoming deficits in students, staff and institutions in order to achieve policy-defined, and enforced, performance targets. However, enforced performance targets (at all levels of education) perpetuate deficits and inequalities between individuals and institutions, subsequently maintaining the need for academic support. The business, or customer service approach, emerged more recently with the marketisation of HE and political drives to improve teaching and learning quality 'efficiently' (BIS, 2016) through consumer satisfaction. However, efficiency and consumer satisfaction conflict, thus creating barriers to quality teaching and learning. Therefore the policies driving the business approach undermine the very purpose of education as a means to learning and growth.

Through HE policy, central government has increasingly reduced the purpose of HE to the short-term pursuit of economic capital, thus perpetuating disempowerment, inequality and social divides. In contrast, academic support services champion social and cultural values, recognising the long-term and holistic benefit of education for society as well as the economy. However, to achieve these benefits it needs government to reconsider the dominant capital of society and education, and devolve power over education to those qualified to make educational judgements for the greater good.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Uncontrolled keywords: Academic Support, Higher Education, Holistic Development, Remedying Deficits, Consumer versus Learner, Satisfaction, Learner Autonomy, Economic Capital versus Cultural Capital, Economic Values versus Social Values, Vocational Education, Liberal Education, Performativity, Knowledge, Power versus Empowerment, Policy, Tolerance, Criticality, Training versus Education, Consumption versus Experience
Divisions: Divisions > Directorate of Education > Centre for the Study of Higher Education
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 15 May 2019 08:12 UTC
Last Modified: 08 Dec 2022 23:56 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Ashmore, Tracey Louise.

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