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Newcomers at the University. Welcome practices and staff involvement in the UK

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - WELCOME-UNIVERSITY (Newcomers at the University. Welcome practices and staff involvement in the UK)

Reporting period: 2017-05-23 to 2019-05-22

European universities have significantly changed the way of dealing with newcomers over the last thir-ty years. In the wake of the surge in enrolments, educators, professional staff, and authorities have suddenly been confronted with new categories of students. In addition, the governance of universities has undergone rapid changes concerning patterns of internationalisation and mobility, especially be-cause of the influence and the soft power of transnational organisations. The issues that have concer-ned researchers and authorities primarily regard the dropout of first-year students (FYS) and the utility of mobility programmes to reinforce a “European identity”.

With my research programme at King's College London, I have tried to better understand how univer-sities welcome and take actions to integrate FYS and students in mobility with a diverse background. These organisational conditions have not been sufficiently considered by educational researchers and practitioners yet. Most works focus merely on teaching, admission process, or material life conditions outside the university.

My research programme has had three main objectives: (1) to give an account of the concrete func-tioning of the policy concerning FYS and students in international mobility in British universities; (2) to conceive a framework suitable for comparative and international research regarding welcoming poli-cies for newcomers that reinforce teaching and learning processes; (3) to make a contribution to practitioners who seek to enrich newcomers’ experience and retention.

The UK has been the most suitable place to carry out this research for two reasons. First, some of its universities have been pioneers in carrying out initiatives for first-year students and students in interna-tional mobility. Second, there exists a more robust academic tradition in the UK exploring the first-year experience, compared to most countries in Europe.
I ended the MSCA at the 15th month because I have been offered a regular position with tenure at the University of Lyon 2, in France. I will be co-leading an international project aiming at improving the social impact of research on education in Europe.

During the action, I have conducted fieldwork in different English cities — observations, interviews and website analysis. I have also taken part in dissemination and network-building activities in England and France and organised a symposium at the British Educational Research Association conference, in Newcastle, on transition to higher education. I have prepared a paper that draws on the discussions I have had during these activities and that will be submitted to the British Journal of Sociology of Education in December 2018. In addition, I had the opportunity to take part in training activities at King’s College London and elsewhere.

Finally, I have been involved in educational and research activities within the host laboratory (School of Education, Communication and Society) and regularly been in communication with my supervisor (Anna Mountford-Zimdards, first, Sharon Gewirtz, later).
The MSCA helped me enlarge my research network with high level and senior scientists and enrich my academic and management skills, including English proficiency and team coordination. In addition to academic outcomes, I would like to stress intercultural enrichment as a personal contribution of the MSCA. Being in England helped me confront different academic and political traditions. My position as a stranger, as well as my expertise in Latin American and European educational policy, helped me question values, norms and know-how that are taken for granted in England. For instance, I have been able to see in a different light how boundaries between ‘students’ and ‘customers’ remain problematic in the context of growing marketisation and managerialism in higher education. At the same time, by becoming familiar with English education, I have been able to understand how welcome policy in higher education is poorly understood and usually caricatured in France. Finally, I will be in a position to work with Argentine universities aiming at enhancing the student experience (in particular La Plata and Cuyo universities, with whom I have worked already).