Seeing for yourself: How ‘ambient information’ shapes parental attitudes to higher education

Canovan, Cherry orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-9751-5646 and Luck, Christiane (2018) Seeing for yourself: How ‘ambient information’ shapes parental attitudes to higher education. Widening Participation and Lifelong Learning, 20 (4). pp. 148-168. ISSN 1466-6529

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Parental attitudes are a key determinant of whether a young person goes on to university, but parents from disadvantaged areas sometimes feel ill-equipped to advise their children. This study looks at whether visiting a university campus for a fun, informal event can alter parents’ feelings of comfort with, and knowledge about, higher education. Using a mixed-methods case study conducted at an English university-based science festival, we found that parents from areas of greater deprivation underwent a more significant positive shift in attitude towards university than those from less deprived areas. We use the concept of ‘ambient information’ to describe the information collected by immersion in a university setting in a neutral context; we found that this information worked to make university seem ‘real’ or ‘achievable’ to parents. We also found that participants gathered knowledge in key areas such as the types of facilities and courses that universities offer. We conclude that informal events on university campuses can have valuable benefits for widening participation. However organisers face the challenge of improving attendance at such events by under-represented groups without impacting on their relaxed nature.

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