chapter  13
13 Pages

Biography and narratives

Adult returners to learning
WithBarbara Merrill, Peter Alheit

Widening participation and lifelong learning in higher education is high on the policy agenda of several European national governments and the European Commission. Alongside this is a questioning of the purpose of universities and the eliteness of some institutions. This chapter discusses the use of biographical methods in adult education research through the findings of a research project funded by the European Commission on the access policies and practices for non-traditional adult students in universities across six European countries. Using biographies enables us to understand these issues by highlighting the interrelationship between macro, meso and micro levels. The research identifies different typologies of universities by drawing on Bourdieu's work on symbolic capital and knowledge hierarchies which may either promote or hinder the access of adults. The life histories of the learners revealed several educational biographies shaped by their habitus. The relationship between biographies, social capital and experiences of learning in HE are examined and developed in relation to the symbolic space of a particular university using case studies from the UK and Germany. While participating in HE is a risky business for many adults it can also be an empowering one for others.