By Emma Jackson, University of Worcester

What a thought-provoking conference! With the current changes in Higher Education the conference aimed to highlight how discourses of inclusion are vital; providing a platform to deliberate and reflect upon issues and concerns around inclusion and widening participation at a time of turbulence for Higher Education Institutions. Insightful keynotes, workshop presentations and a poster session offered the opportunity to hear about new research and perspectives from around the world, including Australia.

Refreshing keynotes were heard from Sir David Watson, Professor Louise Morley and Professor Trevor Gale. Professor Trevor Gale’s keynote was a particular highlight; as it focused on something I have been exploring recently, what do we mean by “aspirations”? Gale spoke of habituated aspiration and doxic aspiration. Doxic aspiration was considered to be informed by populist ideology and based upon on the assumptions of the “good life”. Whereas habituated aspirations is associated with an individual’s biological and historical conditions. Professor Gale ended his keynote with “it’s the same tune just a different key”. Widening participation is a global matter and the conference successfully provided a platform for new directions, initiatives and practices from around the globe to be heard enabling delegates to learn from each other.

Workshops in the tightly packed conference programme were also all of interest, making attendance difficult to choose. Presentations from doctoral research projects were of particular interest to me, not only because it enabled me to hear about exciting new research in the field, but it also provided me with the opportunity to network and share ideas with fellow postgraduate students.  Clare Gartland’s workshop: ‘Marketing Participation? Student ambassadors’ contribution to widening participation schemes in engineering and medicine at two contrasting universities’ stood out for me. The small attendance to this session offered the opportunity for a more intimate presentation as attendees also discussed their experiences of working with student ambassadors, which proved to be very fruitful. Key ideas I took away from the session was that automatic assumptions that ambassadors’ can relate to young people needs to be further explored; as the rapport between the young person and ambassador is important. Yet the impact of student ambassadors’ is difficult to quantify as encounters are typically fleeting ones. The research presented and discussions amongst attendees raised important questions to consider when exploring my own data. The workshops I attended highlighted to me the importance of such a conference as this, to offer practitioners, established researchers and doctoral research students like myself the space to discuss their research, ideas, and thoughts in a friendly environment.

The conference provided the opportunity to hear experiences further afield. The keynotes, workshops and the buzzing poster session all contributed to this. Attendance to this conference was small but this was such an advantage; as it offered the opportunity for more fruitful networking with fellow colleagues, something that can be quite difficult at a much larger conference. Prolonged discussions especially with fellow postgraduate students allowed the opportunity to hear their experiences and explore in depth their research. Without this conference it would have not been possible to uncover such interesting and relevant research that I shall be exploring further.  A sense of community passion for the topic and the friendly environment for postgraduates has yet again enthused me; similar to my attendance in 2010. Finally no review would be complete without a mention of how wonderful the food and venue was. This conference as suggested in the title is a helping hand for postgraduate students. It was such an interesting and highly informative conference-I look forward to 2014!

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