‘Risky Business?’

On Perceptions of Risk and Vulnerability in Further Education


  • Christina Donovan Edge Hill University




Since incorporation, the economic value of students to colleges has seen the language of 'risk' and 'drop-out' permeate the further education sector, placing retention and achievement high up on the agenda, with what appears to be little consideration for the consequences this might have for the students the terms describe. This study provides a detailed exploration of the conflicting accounts of the term ‘risk’ from the perspectives of tutors, support staff and managers within a further education college and the implications for their practice with students who are identified as ‘at risk’. The findings suggest that perceived risk is strongly associated with behaviours which make the student ‘vulnerable’, which could adversely affect students from so-called ‘disadvantaged’ backgrounds. Therefore, this paper makes the case that the notion of risk could disproportionately impact upon students who are marginalised for a variety of reasons. This could lead to practices which actively exclude students who are perceived to be ‘vulnerable’, and therefore of less value to an institution operating within a neoliberal marketplace.


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