In the present of each student of higher education, two time and two lives coexist simultaneously: the past tense, which ends the life that was lived and which brought it there; the future time, which will open the door to the life that will be lived and that is being prepared there.
These two times have different importance in each individual, in the respective historical and social circumstances, and will determine the quality of the present life, in all its dimensions.
As Nico (2001) points out, although it is directly related to a certain epoch of life, since being a student “means, implicitly, for oneself or for the outside, to belong to youth” (Molinari, 1992: 72). student representation is always associated with an image of transience. Erikson (1985: 80) even asserts that being a student means belonging to a transitional group – eventually atomized and characterized by individualism and selfishness (Le Bart & Merle 1997: 11) – with an essential instability, a continuous metamorphosis, and distance from the family environment. Also Baudelot et al (1981, quoted by Molinari, 1992: 81) refer to student representation as being a “temporary social group and divided by studies, family environment and professional perspectives”.
To be a student of higher education is in many circumstances the construction of a daily balance, in which one tries to connect the more consolidated experiences of the past with the less and less clear projections of the future. Chickering & Reisser (1993: 50) even define the university student as an individual with an energy-filled present, but with an uncertain future and destiny. It is in this personal context – deeply embedded in a particular institutional, social, economic and historical context – that the scientific, technical and cultural qualification of the student of higher education takes place, taking into account their preparation for their personal and professional future.
In fact, in the general educational process of seeking autonomy, university attendance, particularly during the first year, becomes one of the main supports, with the help of which one builds up and consolidates the personal and often professional expression of each one (Dominicé, 1985: 122; 1988: 53). According to Snyders (1993: 6), the period of the student being a period of transition and preparation for a future professional and personal existence is a moment in which there are some contradictions between the “experiences of the past recent reality, the reality of the present and the expectations of the future. ” From the union of the three vertices of this vital triangle of the university student, will be born an individual polygon and unique, depending on the preponderance of each of the vertices in the life of the university student.
An important change in the profile of university students has, however, occurred in the recent past of Portuguese higher education: the growing number of adult students attending Higher Education, particularly since, at the level of secondary education, new modalities have been implemented of Adult Education and Training – highlighting here the processes of RVCC / Recognition, Validation and Certification of Competencies – that have recaptured hundreds of thousands of adults for the formal qualification courses, some of whom have reached higher education institutions.
In adult students, the highest age and professional, family,
political and civic, promote a different way of being a student, since attitudes, projects and the capacity to deal with educational situations take on new, if not more precise, contours.
Whatever the approach used, it seems certain that the classic student’s time is far off, which, according to Snyders (1993: 23), was the individual who started high school, leaving secondary school, and did not yet have a family. of all their time to study, in an exclusive occupation in their formation. In these new audiences of the University, other profiles and typologies learn begin to appear:
i) student-workers, already frequent in higher education, but never with the dimension they presently assume;
ii) part-time students (Knapper & Cropley, 1991: 48; Hodkinson, 1994: 21), individuals who do not assume their academic life as their most important dimension and combine it with other dimensions;
iii) intermittent students (El-Khawas, 1996: 66), a reality that is present today and which results from the existence of individuals who alternate periods of academic attendance with some periods of absence.
These different categories are now a reality that is expanding in the university context. This fact has made the institutional need to ensure adequate and compatible answers to new demands arising from the different equations of life that each of these groups of students contain inside yourself.
If there are students, for whom the experiences of the past continue to preponderate in their life, making it difficult, so often, to make a proper transition, others.
There will be colleagues in whom the daily negotiation of the circumstances of life consumes them all the time and energy in a constant attempt to find a comfortable balance.
Concerns about the achievement of personal and professional projects, projecting in the present an already well-defined image of the future, are the dominant feature of one of the categories of university students, in which the personal dimension may be more stabilized: student-workers . For students of the other categories, the relationship built in the present between the past and the future is often a difficult exercise and an unpredictable solution.
In this small reflection that we present here about the vital circumstances of the individuals of higher education, we think that one of the most important variables of the personal equation that each one establishes and solves in his university student present time: the vocational dimension.
Despite the institutions’ growing concerns about the adequacy of curriculum designs, especially in the initial and final segments of the qualification courses, students do not always find, in the first year of university attendance, the desired and conscious extension of their academic projects. As Nico (2001) points out, if the entry into higher education for many students does not mean a new academic stage, in a path already outlined for others, nor does it mean the beginning of a new project. It will only be the successful achievement of a great purpose, which was to enter higher education.
On the opposite side of the qualification course, the previous reasoning also applies: presently, the conclusion of the academic stage in teaching means less and less the beginning of a professional course and, increasingly, only the completion of a moment in the vital process of qualification.
In these conditions, the vocational dimension of the students of
adequate from the vocational dimension to reality, adapting the future to a pleasant present;
– Vocational resilience, which manifests itself in certain situations, in which the need of the individual is verified, not abdicating their vital projects, finding the most adequate responses to the present circumstances, so as to make them instrumental to their medium and long-term, trying to adapt the present to the future of which it does not want to abdicate.
– Vocational conformism, which may occur when some individuals, in the absence of well-defined vital projects, or faced with a sense of incapacity, regarding the changed circumstances
(Jarousse, 1984: 207) and settle for the situation they live in a relatively stable equilibrium between an absence of future in any present;
– Vocational crystallization, which becomes evident in all those students who temporarily suspend the realization of their deeper vital projects, using, in an instrumental way, the circumstances of the
thus ensuring their academic and professional survival, in a strategy of letting the present pass to fulfill in the future, the projects of the past.
This vocational dimension – and concomitantly curricular, in higher education – is, in our opinion, a fundamental area so that, through personalized (Incyan, 1988: 60; Garin, 1988: 66; Stern, 1992: 20) to the vocational profile of each individual, to create the conditions for the existence of curricular pathways that prevent the existence of phenomena such as strategic conformism (Zeichner & Gore, 1993: 101), conformist success (Menezes, Costa & Paiva Campos, 1989: 60) or the realistic conformism (Nico, 1995: 25).
None of the above behaviors corresponds to evidence of superior training with the quality inherent in its own nature and designation: superior.