Reflections on University Life ESSAY


Patchwork Text


The purpose of this assignment is to provide a ‘patchwork’ text which exemplifies the professional and reflective practice which I have personally developed as a result of undertaking the course.  The reflection will be based on a number of small texts and other patchworks narratives which will then be extended and built upon as a process of professional reflection.  Thus, a commentary will follow on logically from each narrative. Both the narratives and commentaries are based around the issue of higher education and education in general.  However, before this process is actively undertaken it is first prudent to briefly outline what is meant by reflective practice and the wider connotations it denotes in terms of professionalism and professional practice.

The term reflective practice denotes a process whereby practitioners reflect on the processes and functions of their professional practice in the hope that such reflection will allow for a graduated understanding of the practice itself, and the possible methods to develop such practice (Schon, 1983).  Therefore, the purpose of reflective practice is to enhance the potential for better processes of practice in the future.  The methods through which this reflection can be undertaken are varied and diverse.  However, it is important to note that values and ethics invariably serve to act as central pivots in the process which accounts for professional actions (Atkinson & Claxton, 2000).  Thus, value and ethical foundations act as the grounding on which prescriptive action is undertaken.  It is essential to bear in mind these definitional parameters as further investigation is undertaken on the basis of narratives and commentaries.


Narrative 1: Online Newspaper Report

Guardian Online: Twenty-One Oxbridge Colleges Took No Black Students Last Year

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This narrative takes the form of an online report from the Guardian newspaper.  The report highlights how twenty-one colleges in the universities of Oxford and Cambridge failed to take on any black students in the academic year beginning September 2009.

The report is generally negative in terms of its coverage of the issue.  Moreover, specific focus is placed on general issues which have increased in prevalence over recent years.  In particular, the issue of social and racial exclusion is given heavy expression, with the case study utilised as a means of propelling concepts central both to education, and wider social policy.  Therefore, this narrative has a variety of connotations for professional practice in general and my own reflective practice in particular.


As suggested above, the issue of social and racial exclusion in leading British universities is something which has considerable important for general education policy and social policy.  In addition, the political connotations of this problem are also clearly apparent and indeed are emphasised in the narrative provided above.

Furthermore, in addition to the general issues which arise, this narrative also has a considerable importance for my own reflective practice.  Given that I have a keen interest in education policy, the presence of structural limitations in terms of access to education is very important to me.  In order for this reflection to be based on a firm analytical foundation, I feel it is prudent to outline the general issues which pervade the narrative, i.e. social and racial exclusion.

In recent years, the issue of social exclusion has developed to be significant both in the political and social realms.  Social exclusion denotes the process through which social structures inhibit the agency of individuals or groups to affect their conditions (Tripp, 1993).  These conditions are varied.  For example, affecting ones position may include economic development or social progression.  As such, if employment opportunities or social development can be viewed as a means of affecting one’s own position, then clearly the role of education is central.  If educational structures act as a means stopping a particular social group from developing and enhancing their agency and prospects, then there are obvious problems in terms of social progression in general.  Moreover, the ethical and moral foundations of the educational institutions in question are open to serious doubt.

In terms of my own reflective practice, the issue of racial and social exclusion is very important.  I think that educational institutions act as a primary conduit through which effective social progression can take place.  Therefore, I consider such institutions to have an active social role in addition to the role they play in education.  As a result of my own academic studies and actual prescriptive practice, I have found that university education acts as a central means through which individuals are able to fundamentally alter their own social, economic and personal circumstances.  Indeed, I have found through my own studies that university education greatly enhances ones understanding of the educational and social structures which pervade general society.  Therefore, ensuring that such structures are open in terms of access to the wider population is essential.

Given the above, the information provided in the narrative is most concerning.  The universities of Oxford and Cambridge are regarded as leading institutions, not only within Britain, but also the wider academic world.  Therefore, the presence of social and racial exclusion is worrying.  I have found in my own practice that members of minority groups often face social and cultural impediment to their progression and development.  Such impendent can take place on the basis of wider societal assumptions such as racism.  I think that such problems are difficult to solve at a societal level and that government should be wary of taking proactive legislative measures aimed at altering the assumptions formed in society.  However, government does have a central role to play in ensuring that social and racial exclusion does not pervade the educational structures of the country.  Thus, my reflection on this issue leads me to conclude that proactive measures should be taken to combat the overt racial exclusion which is presently taking place in Oxford and Cambridge.  I think there are precedents on which to base such a policy.  For example, when the Metropolitan Police Service was accused of being ‘institutionally racist’ the government at the time set about a systematic review of the processes and functions at the Met.  My reflection on this issue therefore leads me to argue that similar actions should be taken in relation to Oxford and Cambridge universities.

However, although the actions of government are clearly important in this issue, my personal experience and reflection in relation to higher education leads me to conclude that government action should take place in conjunction with institutional development within the universities themselves.  Therefore, reflective practice should occur within both Oxford and Cambridge universities in a way which allows the institutions themselves to deal effectively with the problems which have recently been highlighted (Moon, 2004).

It is essential to point out that the issue of social and racial exclusion essentially rests on ethical and moral foundations.  In terms of educational practice, it is vital that such foundations serve to act as the basis for practical policy.  Moreover, my professional reflection tells me that inter-disciplinary approaches are vital in order that effective conclusions are offered on this matter (Moon, 2004).  In terms of personal reflection, I have also found it hugely beneficial to engage in with other disciplines when attempting to offer effective determinations in education.  Indeed, such interdisciplinary approaches have a great deal to offer the present investigation and the narrative under discussion.

An example of how professional reflection through a multi-disciplinary approach can be useful is clearly emphasised in relation to social and racial exclusion.  My reflection tells me that it is essential that education policy and the institutions within it are formed on the basis of clear ethical and moral foundations.  In other academic areas, the active inclusion of ethical and moral principles has proved most effective in ensuring that practical policy implementation are based on the firm academic and analytical foundation. For example, in social work, values and ethics are deemed vital, including social and racial exclusion (Banks, 2001).  Therefore, the social work profession forms its practical processes on the basis of theoretical assumptions which suggest that issues such as social exclusion must be actively considered by practitioners.  Therefore, my judgment and professional reflection within education makes me certain that such theoretical foundations are essential in education, just as they are in social work.  Thus, the active inclusion of an interdisciplinary approach is essential in order that concrete and supportable conclusions can be proffered.  Moreover, given that education as a discipline clearly impacts directly upon all the other disciplines at higher education, reflection clearly tells me that interdisciplinary approaches between education and other subjects are dramatically increased as a consequence (Tripp, 1993).


Narrative 2: Picture of Student Protests in London over Tuition Fee Rises

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The narrative picture provided through the above link shows the recent student protests which took place in relation to the rise in tuition fees in higher education institutions in England.  The legislation passed through the House of Commons; however, the protests became increasingly turbulent and eventually led to widespread civil unrest with police having to undertaken proactive action to stop the protesters.  In one particular case, a car carrying the Prince of Wales and his wife became caught up in the protests.

The picture provided thus contains much wider connotations.  Reflective practice on this issue could therefore take a number of directions.  However, I feel the most important reflections to undertake are in relation to the role and validity of civil protest against a democratically elected government, in addition to the central issue of tuition fees for higher education.


As suggested above, my personal and professional reflections on the narrative will centre on civil unrest and tuition fees.  With regards to the former, I consider that protest against a government that is taking a particular action is essential in a democratic system if the wider population disagrees with the policy decision.  It is important to bear in mind that one’s assumption on the actual issue in question is not the paramount concern.  Whether one agrees or not with the protesters, this should not affect the assumptions one makes regarding civil protest against the government.  In a democratic system like that in Britain, the electorate decide who they want to form the government.  Therefore, my professional and reflective practice suggests to me that the electorate pass over the power and sovereignty to run the country and place in it in the hands of democratically elected politicians.  These politicians are then empowered to make decisions and form policies at they see fit.  However, my reflection on the actions of government leads me to conclude that this is not the only role of the electorate.  Although government is provided the political sovereign power by the people, it is also the responsibility of the people to engage in protest when they feel the government has overstepped the mark.  As such, in terms of my own professional practice, I think that protests like the one provided in the narrative are essential in order to hold government to account for its actions.  In some cases, protests have been so widespread that government policy has had to be changed; as in the case of the Poll Tax. Therefore, in order that governments are actively held to account by the wider population, the kind of civil protest undertaken in London by the students is essential.

My personal and professional reflective practice in education invariably means that the issue of tuition fees is of paramount concern.  How higher education is funded in the modern context is essential to professional practice in education.  Over recent decades, the numbers of young people going to university has increased dramatically.  Therefore, there is a clear dialectic between increasing numbers on the one hand, and how to fund these extra places.  The protests undertaken by students in London were aimed at stopping the government from passing new legislation aimed at increasing the basic rate of tuition fees from £3000 a year, to a maximum of £9000 in England.

My professional practice leads me to conclude that the recent legislation aimed at fundamentally altering the tuition fee system is incorrect.  The essential debate which has taken place has centred on how the pay for the present student numbers of university.  As such, the focus has been on how to pay, as opposed to whether the numbers themselves should be altered.  In my personal and professional practice I have encountered a lot of students and am fully aware of the calibre of many of the students presently undertaking university degrees.  This practical experience leads me to conclude that many students are taking courses which do not fit their needs and requirements.  As such, my professional reflection suggests that it is overall student numbers that should be reduced, as opposed to imposing higher fees.  The benefits of establishing such a system are considerable.  Firstly, lower student numbers would mean that the present fee structure could be maintained or even reduced.  Secondly, lower student numbers would also mean that those not going to universities would be able to undertake practical placements in jobs such as those in the trades.  Thus, the present problems relating to shortages of plumbers etc could be effectively resolved.  Furthermore, limiting the number of propel going to university would inevitably mean that only the most academically effective students would be able to get the reduced places.  This would mean that overall academic performance in universities would be increased.  Furthermore, the academic performance of those attending universities would be increased because of the difficulty to get the place in first place.  Therefore, my personal reflection and professional practice within the higher education structures leads me to conclude that limiting student numbers is the most effective way of ensuring high levels of academic attainment, whilst simultaneously limiting the costs to universities, student and the state.


Narrative 3: Poem; “Bright College Days” by Tom Lehrer

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The poem in question forms the lyrics of a song written about university life.  The poem thus accounts for many of the obvious things that happen whilst attending university.  There is a fair amount of focus placed on drinking, socialising and the formation of close relationships.  Therefore, given that this narrative attempts to directly account for the social aspects of university life, one feels it is very applicable to the personal and professional practice which is the subject of this work.




The social aspects of university life are integral to the overall experience of higher education and often serve to propel the academic achievements of students.  Obviously, issues relating to alcohol may sometimes serve to negatively affect academic study; however, it is important to note that the formation of effective social relationships often enhances the potential for students to achieve notably academic success (Tripp, 1993).

Therefore, the focus that this narrative gives to the social aspects of university life is very important in terms of my own personal and professional practice.  On reflection, I have found that the social processes at higher education result in the formation of very close personal relationships with other students.  Reflecting on how this interaction with other student’s impacts upon one’s general outlook is of significant importance.  I feel that the formation of close social relationships creates an atmosphere of collaboration and unity between groups of students.  As such, the social atmosphere which exists in university is paramount in creating the necessary climate in which good academic potential can be realised, along with developing interpersonal skills.  Thus, for people who naturally suffer with an innate inability to interact with others, the social experience of university is hugely effective at developing such low skills.  My reflections on university life from a personal perspective offer credence to this assessment.  I have seen many students who in the formative weeks of attending higher education show problems relating to interaction with others.  However, as time progresses and these students become more accustomed to the processes and social functions of university life, then it is clearly possible to see marked alterations in their outlooks. Such alterations often present themselves in terms of increased confidence.  Therefore, professional and personal reflections allow one to offer substantive conclusions regarding the social role played by university.

Furthermore, the poem very briefly points to the social impact university life as after the completion of higher education.  This is a very important issue to asses on the basis of personal and professional reflection.  Reflective considerations that I have had suggest to me that the social aspects of university play an integral role in wider society.  Firstly, higher education establishments provide a social hub, not only for the students, who attend, but also the wider community and society in general.  For example, cultural and artistic university departments often carry out functions which are open to the public.  Notably examples of this could be Drama or Music departments.  Thus, my reflection tells me that universities have an immediate social role to play beyond that which is experienced by the students themselves.

However, although my reflection points to universities having a wider social role, the narrative also hints at the social role played by graduates when they leave university.  This is also something which I consider central to the benefits of higher education.  People who have been to university and gained a degree invariably have a greater understanding of the world than those who have not.  Therefore, in terms of propagating effective social processes, these graduates are essential.  Above all, the social developments and effective personal skills which come about as a result of the social interactions in university mean that those who leave into wider society have a positive effect on the processes and functions of that society.  Therefore, in addition to the economic benefits of gradates entering the employment market; it is also possible to see a social benefit of having effective graduates in the wider population.

Therefore, it is possible to see how this narrative has much wider connotations than first appears.  Indeed, reflective practice itself needs to account for such connotations and the degree to which they affect actual policy prescriptions within education.





Atkinson, T. and Claxton, G. (2000) The Intuitive Practitioner, Buckingham: Open University Press.

Banks, S. (2001) Ethics and Values in Social Work, London: Palgrave.

Moon, J.A. (2004) A Handbook of Reflective and Experiential Learning, Abingdon: Routledge.

Tripp, D. (1993) Critical Incidents in Teaching: developing professional judgement, London: Routledge.

Schon, D. (1983) The Reflective Practitioner, How Professionals Think In Action, London: Basic Books.