The Society for Research into Higher Education

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Exploring a ‘Sense of Belonging’ and Why It Matters in Higher Education

By Gill Mills and Caroline Jones

This was the first time we had attended an SRHE Event: we were optimistic and excited to experience and develop new knowledge aligned to the subject area of, ‘A sense of belonging within Higher Education’ and we were not disappointed. The SRHE venue provided an intimate but not intimidating environment where we were exposed to speakers covering a range of different elements that linked into the common theme. There was initial insight into the issues of admissions; clearing and contextual data from research delivered by Mansor Rezaian, from the Queen Mary University, then a qualitative exploration of non-traditional students’ journey into an elite university from Debbi Stanistreet of the University of Liverpool. Following these opening speakers there were opportunities for participant questions and answers and whilst we did not pose questions we found great value in listening to the elaborate and interesting discussions that took place. This part of the event created an academic community feel with professionals from across institutions, faculties and disciplines debating contextual dilemmas and experiences.

The latter part of the day explored the construction of ‘spaces’ of student friendship, with an in-depth delivery from Mark Holton of the University of Plymouth followed by some thoughtful ideas on how to use innovative approaches to research for under-represented students in urban settings, courtesy of speakers from the Queen Mary University. There was an extremely thought-provoking presentation by researcher Daniel Hartley and students from Queen Mary University – Dushant Patel and Nadia Hafedh – who are undertaking participatory action research relating to the recruitment of a sensitive community and implications of employing qualitative methodology in generating institutional change. Capturing the students’ voice and listening to their experiences as part of this research brought to life the importance of collaborative research and we found the idea of capturing data using a ‘long table’ approach fascinating. It was also refreshing to hear honest and frank discussions relating to the difficulties that the researchers had encountered thus far, with participating academics offering solutions and suggestions for resolutions or alternative approaches.

The day culminated in small group discussion on key issues affecting a sense of belonging and analysing why this matters in higher education. The opportunity to share ideas and knowledge through these professional networking discussions provided a valuable and timely end to this academic research collaborative event.

The style of the presentations was relaxed, thorough, informative and we found them insightful, enabling us to consider the impact of how the different pieces of research would sit within the context of our own institution. The day gave us valuable time to reflect and develop our professional knowledge based on evidence gained through the sharing of the work of others within academic research and across a range of institutions. We are already looking at the calendar to see which event we can book next! Thank you to SRHE for this opportunity; an exceptionally enjoyable day which helped us develop our own ‘sense of belonging’ to the SRHE community of researchers into HE.

Gill Mills is Course Leader for the Foundation Degree in Health and Social Care and Caroline Jones is Lecturer in Health and Social Care at University Campus, Oldham, which supports their SRHE membership.

Ian Kinchin

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Student evaluation of teaching: are we reaching for the wrong type of excellence?

By Ian Kinchin

Over twenty years ago Carr (1994: 49) wrote:

 ‘It is a shallow and false view of education and teaching which takes it to be a matter of the technical transmission of pre-packaged knowledge and skills in the context of efficient management’

However, it seems that this false view is still able obscure a more contemporary and research-informed views of teaching. The on-going drive for ‘teaching excellence’ still seems to focus on actions of the teacher that promote Carr’s ‘shallow view’. That is not to say that the student voice is not important, but we need to ensure that students are asked the right questions so that we do not promote student passivity as learners and do not subvert the student voice for purely political ends.

Fitzgerald et al (2002) wrote Continue reading