Francis M A (2010) ‘Widening participation’ in the fine art PhD.: Expanding research and practice. Art, Design & Communication in Higher Education. Vol. 9, No. 2, pp. 167–181.
This article explores the previous government’s ‘social inclusion’ agenda in the context of the Fine Art PhD and asks what might encourage and deter widening participation (WP) students from accessing and undertaking a fine art PhD. The PhD was chosen as the focus of this investigation because, as higher education’s most advanced qualification, it tests the extent of commitment to WP. It was also selected because of its role in defining the identity of the HE workforce.
An extensive literature review was undertaken, which showed that seemingly no research had been conducted on the relationship between widening participation and the PhD in general, and none in relation to fine art. Working with Dr Isobel Bowditch (Research Fellow, University of Arts London), and mentored by Professor Glynis Cousin (a specialist in learning and teaching in higher education at Coventry University), Francis conducted a series of semi-prepared focus groups with a wide range of fine art students which explored the reasons why students did not pursue a fine art PhD. The generation of over five hours of data benefited the ‘inter-rater’ reliability during analysis.
The research, funded by a University of the Arts London pedagogic research award (£5,000, 2008), found that WP in the fine art PhD was substantially hindered by a fundamental information gap about the opportunity, affecting all students. To the extent that the specifics of the situation studied are typical, the outcomes of the research may therefore have application to other higher education fine art environments.