Eco-systemic transitions: A holistic vision of international students’ transition experiences to British higher education

Berrouaine, Imene (2022) Eco-systemic transitions: A holistic vision of international students’ transition experiences to British higher education. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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Students’ academic transitions have attracted considerable attention as a widely theorised and a thoroughly researched multi-faceted topic. Prime discourses have sparked some of the most prominent and controversial debates about the theoretical underpinnings of ‘students’ transition’ into higher education’ and its implications for praxis. In the British higher education (HE) landscape, the university is subjected to conflicting pressures – between expectations, demands, and retentions – in the light of increased diversity in the student body. Student voice and engagement acted as a vehicle of empowerment in (re) shaping educational policies.

A fundamental blueprint of these discursive primings have placed this debate within the neoliberal university narrative. The pervasiveness of the neoliberal effect on the perceived quality of experience is not new to the academic debate. On a macro level, neoliberal ethos of higher education has functioned as a key reference in the vernacular of policy analysts about governmental governance, management mechanisms, and support strategies in the sphere of higher education. Exploring the nexus between theory and practice, transition in higher education pedagogy has long been critiqued as ill-defined, nuanced, and problematic in echoing the multiple ontological truths of the student experience. The fragmented nature of transition support rationality is firmly rooted within metanarrative of neoliberal logic of the western higher education sector. Homogeneity in support pedagogies is a product of, most notably, the status quo logic of the neoliberal agenda that has exerted a constraining linear approach to transition-focused-support interventions. This research endeavours, first-hand, to inform a well-theorised transition support practice for a diverse body of students. The transition literature bestows coexisting philosophical narratives and robust theoretical frameworks that entertained controversial concepts of linearity, uniformity, fluidity, diversity, and multiplicity of experience. A fundamental element of this study is to push against these limiting boundaries of assessment to address students’ ‘successful’, ‘troublesome’, and ‘failed’ students’ transitions (Quinn, 2010, p. 124)- concepts in the transition literature- beyond simplistic binaries of success, adaptation, and retention to explore the myriad of broader patterns. Foregrounded in this belief, this study aims to challenge the ‘taken-for-granted’ conceptual and theoretical underpinnings in HE policy frameworks. Drawing upon a mosaic of discursive, spatial, and conceptual formations, this study aims to capture the complexity of the international student’s transition experience.

The formal aim of this inquiry is to investigate the extent to which institutional support provision and orchestrated intervention programs accommodate the diversity and multiplicity of experiences in the international student body. Therefore, there was a call to drift away from conventional frameworks to a multi-layered approach of understanding and engaging with transitioning students’ needs and expectations. With the aim of disrupting rigid reductionist paradigms, this thesis is underpinned by a wholistic perception of the international student’s transition experience. Navigating a feasible route towards this goal, the research is developed with in an eco-systemic critical framework with an emphasis on dynamic interactions [individual ↔ context], and [policymaking↔ ideological perspectives]. This study intends to follow a diagnostic – rather than descriptive- approach to unpack students’ perceptions of their own experiences, whilst navigating the myriad of macro and micro environmental and structural factors. The individual sits at the heart of a dynamic organic system [socio-psych-cultural-economic ecology], thereby a plethora of networks and connections are highlighted. This study has followed a data triangulation approach from two rounds of data collections with a sample of international students from a British university. The first cycle has focused on the breadth of views and perspectives with a large study with qualitative surveys from (total of n = 611) international students. Outcomes of the first survey study have informed and guided the scope of focus in the second cycle. In this latter, focus groups interviews have been conducted with a sample of (n =26) postgraduate taught international students. Besides discursive opportunities, this study has deployed a variety of reflexive and participatory techniques such as participatory visual research method for conceptual reflexivity, engagement, and expression (e.g., cards, participant-produced drawings).

Grounded in an eco-systemic logic, this study’s findings have reflected the dynamic interplay between proximal process from micro-meso-exo-and macro levels of the system. Most notable within the findings of this thesis was the role of inter-individual differences, such as the effect of resource (socio-psych-academic individual background) and situational demands on the quality of experience. On an individual level, outcomes of this study have addressed the role of students’ educational trajectories, cognitive resources, their own and their families’ educational backgrounds and socio-economic status in shaping their current experiences. On a micro-level, social support (friends and family) and academic support systems acted as powerful units to transition. Whilst ruptures in the first is caused by social detachment and re-connection, ruptures in transition-focused-support seem to be centred around relevancy and distribution mechanisms from the host university (in scale, frequency, and depth). This equally addressed a thread of issues around the pseudo-neutrality of knowledge, non-inclusiveness,

non-belongingness, and under-representation that is hosted by reductive institutional practices and interventions. On a macro level, the analytical lens has allowed exploration of students’ internalized comprehensions, and apprehensions of their identity and positionality within the system of HE. The data narrative has provoked reflective discursive connections to the neoliberal agenda of the system, unveiling students’ consumerism tendencies and demand of ‘rights as customers’ in getting support and ‘value for money’ for their educational experience.

This research contributes to knowledge through casting light on prime interwoven transition complexities from a holistic lens of analysis. It acknowledges the value of dynamic overarching conceptual frameworks in investigating complex-interwoven aspects of diversified experiences. Operating within this critical interpretive framework, this study allows infusing further discussions about conceptual understandings of students’ diversified transition experiences. This research promotes the aim of transcending from linearity to multiplicity, from homogenisation to diversification, and from non-representation to inclusion in transition-focused-practices. Building on this thread of arguments, at the heart of this thesis’ aims is to inform transition-tailored interventions, support practices oriented to international students, stakeholders and policy-makers in England’s higher education landscape and beyond.

Keywords: International students, Transition into HE, Eco-systemic framework, transition-support, inclusivity, neoliberal influences

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Dr. Sellman, Edward
Prof. Joseph, Joseph
Keywords: International students, Transition into HE, Eco-systemic framework, transition-support, inclusivity, neoliberal influences
Subjects: L Education > L Education (General)
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > School of Education
Item ID: 71872
Depositing User: Berrouaine, Imene
Date Deposited: 06 Jun 2023 09:30
Last Modified: 06 Jun 2023 09:30

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