Access to knowledge and the formation of lawyer-identity: a Bernsteinian comparison of undergraduate law degrees at two UK universities of different status

Ordoyno, Hannah (2016) Access to knowledge and the formation of lawyer-identity: a Bernsteinian comparison of undergraduate law degrees at two UK universities of different status. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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In order to investigate students’ success and experience at university, this thesis compared students’ access to knowledge through the curriculum, teaching and learning (pedagogy) in Law undergraduate degrees at two UK universities of different status: a higher status ‘pre-1992’ Russell Group University (‘Global’) and a lower status ‘post-1992’ university, which is a member of the Million + Group (‘Local’). Lower-status universities recruit more students from unrepresented groups: students from ethnic minorities; those with disabilities; those who have been in local authority care; mature students; and, students from lower socio-economic groups. These students are often judged to be at a further disadvantage because their universities’ positions in higher education league tables gives the impression that the universities they are attending offer a lower standard of education than the higher status universities. This research focuses upon students’ experiences, at different universities, during their degree and, as such, contributes to the limited body of research about factors which affect student retention and success in higher education.

This research built on a three-year ESRC-funded research project entitled ‘Pedagogic Quality and Inequality in University First Degrees’ (2008-2012) which used a theoretical framework drawn from the sociologist Basil Bernstein to analyse curriculum and pedagogy in sociology-related social science disciplines in four universities in different positions in higher education league tables. This study employed the same broad conceptual framework and some of the methods of the ESRC project for a smaller-scale study exploring how access to knowledge plays out in the discipline of law in two different status universities. The research presented here was a longitudinal comparative case study of an undergraduate Law degree. At each university, curriculum documents for seven core modules were analysed to highlight the similarities and differences in curriculum content and pedagogical processes; two tutorial sessions were observed in consecutive years and tutors (4) interviewed before and after the tutorial; six students (12 students) were recruited and interviewed during each year of their degree course (three times altogether). A biographical life grid was completed during the first year of the students’ course to provide a biography of each student.

Despite the Law Society dictating a core curriculum for a qualifying law degree, the degrees were differently classified and framed. The main differences that emerged are expressed as three dichotomies (1) vocational/academic: Local offered ‘practical insights’ by including in the curriculum practical, work-based modules and learner centred teaching and has strong links with the legal profession. It offered a greater variety in assessment methods and more contact time (2) formal/informal relations: relationships between staff and students at Local were more informal and friendly than at Global where a clear, formal hierarchy between staff and students exists (3) independence/dependence: Global expected more independence of its students than Local where they were guided through material.

Students at Local appeared to have higher levels of confidence when contributing to taught sessions and when using their legal knowledge in a professional environment, and project a sense of belonging within their departments and with other legal scholars. Students and staff at Local projected an identity as ‘future lawyers’ and vocational education, placements and acceptance onto professional legal training courses were highly regarded. In contrast to this, students, and particularly staff, at Global projected an identity as ‘academic, critical thinkers’ which does not relate to actual practice- vocational training and placements are extra-curricular, post-graduate concerns. Only one of the students at Global chose to pursue a career in law. In conclusion, I argued that students at Global and Local were being advantaged and disadvantaged by different elements of the pedagogy and curriculum.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Mclean, M.
Gates, P.
Keywords: Law, University, Russell Group, Million + Group
Subjects: K Law > KD England and Wales
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > School of Education
Item ID: 31342
Depositing User: Ordoyno, Hannah
Date Deposited: 18 Jul 2016 06:40
Last Modified: 14 Sep 2016 06:05

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