‘Invisible yet visible’- exploration of the experiences and perceptions of mature African-Caribbean students in Higher Education

  • Babette Harrison

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis explores the perceptions and experiences of mature African-Caribbean students in Higher Education (H.E). This group was selected as there was very little literature pertaining to their experiences in H.E. This thesis considers the perspective of five students, aged over 21 and who were engaged in H.E within a 5-year period between 2016-2021. This research took an interpretative stance, using qualitative research methods, specifically semi-structured interviews to generate data. To address the study, there were research questions outlined below

1)How do Mature Students of African-Caribbean heritage experience University life?

2)How do perceptions (preadmission & current) of university influence African-Caribbean mature students’ engagement with their learning environment?

3)To what extent does the mature African-Caribbean student’s sense of identity and belonging impact on their university experiences?

There was also a comprehensive review of literature, examining and building on previous research which considered topics such as mature students, racism and belonging which indicated that BAME students experienced barriers to learning and negative perceptions of H.E due to discrimination e.g. (Ancis, Sedlacek, & Mohr, 2000; Rosser-Mims 2014; Green, Pulley, Jackson, Martin, & Fasching-Varner, 2018). A key theoretical framework considered was critical race theory which suggested that Black students experience racism and discrimination within education due to White supremacy, and racism is ‘normalised’ (Ladson-Billings,1998; Solórzano & Yosso,2002; Delgado, Stefancic & Liendo,2012). This study uses counter-storytelling as a tool for African-Caribbean students to relay their personal experiences of discrimination and prejudice. (Ladson-Billings,1998; Solórzano & Yossa ,2002 and Cook & Dixson,2013).

The key findings indicated that the participants found that their experiences of H.E were impacted by the lack of support and the perceptions of their families and the wider African-Caribbean community. The participants who encountered negative opinion or support of being mature students indicated they had a lower sense of belonging and self confidence in their academic journey and felt they were challenging cultural expectations and ‘norms.’ They also felt they were ‘a representative’ of their families and African-Caribbean community and were under pressure to be viewed in a positive light and to be successful in academia.

In terms of their perceptions of learning, many of the participants regarded H.E as potentially hostile learning environment. Ignorance of racial identity hindered engagement with their peers and academic staff. The research also uncovered examples of intra-cultural tensions between African-Caribbean students and students of African heritage which impacted negatively on the African-Caribbean students.

It was found that policies and procedures, the curriculum were all viewed negatively and very exclusive of the mature African-Caribbean students. This was aligned with the lack of African-Caribbean literature and presence in the curriculum, the negative perceptions of the teaching staff and lack of visibilities higher up in the university.

This study identified areas for further investigation including, how the university could facilitate the encouragement and transition of mature African-Caribbean students, further work on how the university could diversify and promote inclusion There is also scope to investigate the role of culture and family in the education process for African-Caribbean students and also further development of research into the intra-ethnic or cultural relationships which were identified in this thesis.
Date of Award9 May 2023
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorJo Bishop (Main Supervisor) & Helen Jones (Main Supervisor)

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