Widening participation through a Foundation degree: using ethical capability concepts to understand the meaning of social justice within caring relationships.
In, Society for Research into Higher Education Annual Conference: Annual Conference 2008, Liverpool, UK,
09 - 11 Dec 2008.
A wealth of research into ethics education is available, albeit from well-established professions. Foundation degrees, recognised as widening access to HE from hard-to-reach under-represented groups, are not yet well researched. Nonetheless they are the preferred qualification for new, unregistered and semi-autonomous ‘Associate Practitioners’. The responsibility to equip this group for ethical practice is arguably every bit as great as it is to those in more traditional roles. However literature suggests that the abstract nature of ethics can militate against deep understanding in ‘practical-minded’ students, and even creates avoidance and alienation (Jaeger, 2001:131; Leget, 2004). Informal, practice-based acculturation is a valuable way of imparting ‘professional’ values (Aveyard et al, 2005), but Foundation degree students do not belong to a profession. The unique life and work experiences, values and beliefs brought by a diverse student body (like Foundation degree cohorts) is seen by Handelsman et al (2005) as a challenge to ‘one-size-fits-all’ curricula. So how might educators overcome these hurdles, without compromising students’ preparation for ethical practice?
This paper will offer a strategy, developed from case study research with graduates in which highly person-centred approaches to caring emerge as a dominant influence. Respecting this emotional perspective (to avoid defensiveness and subsequent alienation / disengagement), while introducing alternative, rational means of engaging with underpinning issues, presents both challenges and opportunities. Rooted in the concept of social justice, Nussbaum’s (1999) capabilities approach provides one such opportunity. By exploring layers of responsibility and influence in real relationships, complex and contradictory ideas can be experimented with and returned to over time. Students necessarily revisit values and aspirations, and importantly their spheres of influence. In doing so, they begin the real work of change from ethical practitioners to ethical people.
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