From a sociological perspective, Bourdieu (1986) sees cultural capital as non-economic resources such as education and knowledge, while social mobility is the ability to move up or down the social ladder. Limited cultural capital restricts social mobility, perpetuating poverty like a self-fulfilling prophecy. This blog post uses the example of Scarborough, a seaside town in Yorkshire in the north of England, to exemplify how alternative modes of delivery of higher education modules can lead to sociological community development.
Higher education ‘cold spots’
With Scarborough being the 80th most income-deprived place in the UK, the challenging aspects of life in a ‘cold spot’ require an alternative way to access education. The educational landscape cultivated by Coventry University Scarborough (CUS) is playing a crucial role in the transformation of the town of Scarborough, known as a higher education ‘cold spot’ (Else, 2014a; DfE, 2017; Coiffait, 2017). In the context of higher education in the UK, ‘cold spots’ refers to regions or communities that lack access to higher education institutions, have lower-than-average levels of participation in higher education, or lack specific types of higher education courses or institutions (Else, 2014b; Coughlan, 2014).
Mode of delivery
The Education degrees at CUS have an innovative curriculum model that emphasises flexibility and the ability for students to fit education around their existing commitments. Multiple entry points and options to ‘step off’ or change mode of study are key elements of the design. CUS courses are designed around six-week blocks of study, and students study one module at a time, usually four blocks in one academic year. There are no end-of-year exams. Instead, a varied range of assessment tasks address learning outcomes within each module.
As a historic seaside location, Scarborough’s influx of visitors during summer periods coincides with the mode of delivery start and end dates (September–April), which seems to work for Scarborough as there are more seasonal employment opportunities during the summer months. The mode of delivery enables people from all walks of life in the region to manage and balance their work, social, family and academic lives, no matter how complex and challenging they may be. Students appreciate how they can economically survive with regular employment while attending university.
‘The CUS mode of delivery enables people from all walks of life in the region to manage and balance their work, social, family and academic lives, no matter how complex and challenging they may be.’
Education degrees as catalysts for change
There are many success stories across various disciplines that demonstrate how this mode of delivery has supported our students (Coventry University Group, 2021; Coventry University Group, 2017). After obtaining an education degree at CUS, we have started to witness middle-aged, single parents who previously had held only part-time jobs at the fish and chip shop to secure stable, permanent employment. Learners with health issues and disabilities are being employed, some for the first time in their lives, and some graduates who have never even had a passport or left Yorkshire are now considering overseas employment.
Change takes time, and the individual successes stemming from a relatively young university campus in a ‘cold spot’ are only starting to create positive ripple effects in the wider community. As Scarborough gains more skilled educators, the town becomes more attractive to international students, families and young professionals.
Scarborough is not unique as there are many places around the world with similar challenges, but the good fortune for Scarborough is that there is now a university in their back yard. Scarborough is proof that the development of cultural capital that benefits an entire community can begin with an Education degree delivered with a flexible approach and end by fostering demographic dynamism and economic vitality, which in turn leads to further social mobility and economic growth.
The block mode is an exciting, intense and alternative way to deliver higher education modules which has found success in the UK as well as other universities around the world, such as Australia (McKie, 2022). It could be quite useful to consider research into block mode andragogy, the narratives surrounding sociological government data and student success from block mode learning, or the challenges associated with UN sustainable development goal 4 in higher education ‘cold spots’ around the world.
Bourdieu, P. (1986). The forms of capital. In J. Richardson (Ed.), Handbook of theory and research for the sociology of education (pp. 241–258). Greenwood Press.
Coiffait, L. (2017). How one university is warming a cold spot. Wonkhe. https://wonkhe.com/blogs/how-one-university-is-warming-a-cold-spot/
Coughlan, S. (2014, October 1). Warning of university ‘cold spots’. BBC News. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-29416791
Coventry University Group. (2021). CU Scarborough’s first Adult Nursing graduates help fill local nursing shortage. CU Scarborough online. https://www.coventry.ac.uk/cus/news/2021/cu-scarboroughs-first-adult-nursing-graduates/
Coventry University Group. (2017). CU Scarborough highlighted as exemplar for flexible, part-time study. CU Scarborough online. https://www.coventry.ac.uk/cus/news/exemplar-for-flexible-part-time-study/
Department for Education [DfE]. (2017, January 18). Education Secretary announces 6 new opportunity areas. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/education-secretary-announces-6-new-opportunity-areas
Else, H. (2014a, October 1). University ‘cold spots’ mapped by HEFCE. Times Higher Education. https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/university-cold-spots-mapped-by-hefce/2016121.article
Else, H. (2014b, October 2). Hefce’s high-definition maps reveal ‘cold spots’. Times Higher Education. https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/hefces-high-definition-maps-reveal-cold-spots/2016086.article
McKie, A. (2022, January 6). Is block teaching the future of university pedagogy? Times Higher Education. https://www.timeshighereducation.com/depth/block-teaching-future-university-pedagogy