What does a student look like? Challenging the stereotype.
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What does a student look like?

A young person who gets up late, parties hard and squeezes studying into the odd spare moment. Is that what you see when you hear the word ‘student’, even though you’re a student yourself?  Stereotypes are pervasive and persuasive.TypicalStudentPhotographers (often, but not always, under commercial pressure) create and reinforce stereotypes: the bride dressed in a meringue; the child with a swollen belly in a refugee camp; the rolling plains of Texas. But photographers can also challenge stereotypes. Indeed the ethical argument is that photographers have a duty to challenge stereotypes, enabling the viewer to see things differently.
As a creative arts college, we want to help our sister organisation the National Extension College (NEC) by creating a portfolio of images of people who might be NEC students. NEC’s students are, to quote the Times Educational Supplement, ‘prisoners, pensioners and anyone in between’ – about as far away from the student stereotype as you can get. NEC will use the images on its website, social media channels, blog and in its 2016/17 course catalogue.
Set up by Michael Young in 1963, NEC began life in a nine-foot square room in a pair of condemned workman’s cottages in Cambridge. It received 3,000 enquiries from students in its first eight weeks, including 600 from married women. Just four years later, it had 7,000 students. 50+ years later, 750,000 people have improved their career prospects and broadened their education with NEC.
It is now the UK’s only not-for-profit online and distance learning provider of skills-based and vocational subjects at further education level, including GCSEs and A levels. Its Chief Executive Ros Morpeth, a former Trustee of OCA, was named Further Education Leader of the Year by the Times Educational Supplement in 2014. She was awarded an OBE for services to further education in 2015.
We are inviting OCA students to help us support NEC and develop their own portfolio at the same time by creating one or more photographs of people who don’t look like students but might be.  Every image we receive will be reviewed by OCA Principal Gareth Dent, photography programme lead Jesse Alexander and OCA’s Head of Communications Elizabeth Underwood. The photographer of each image that makes it through to the portfolio we give NEC will receive a £25 Amazon voucher.
Here’s the competition brief. We are looking for images of a person of any age (14 to 90+) who could, potentially, be an NEC student. Jesse Alexander has put together some guidance on how to take images that don’t look like stock photos – or stereotypes. Each image submitted should feature one person only. All images should be in colour and sent as high resolution jpeg files.
We need a model release form from students for each individual photograph they submit. This confirms the subject’s agreement to their image being used. By entering the competition you grant a license to NEC to use your image for marketing purposes. Images should be attached to an email and sent to coursesupport@oca.ac.uk and a release form filled in for every shot submitted.
The closing date for images to be received by OCA is 30 June, to give students the opportunity to include the work they create in submissions for this year’s July assessment.
PLEASE NOTE: We have extended the closing date for submissions from the 30 June to the 7 July.


Posted by author: Elizabeth Underwood
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4 thoughts on “What does a student look like?

  • Interesting how time can concertina. I read up on Michael Young’s research with Peter Wilmott in Bethnal Green for my ‘O’ level sociology; studied for one of my ‘A’ levels again as a mature student with NEC in the 1970s and now here I am with the OCA. I owe a lot to him for providing me with such opportunities.
    Very helpful guidance as well Jesse. Thanks.

    • It’s good to hear that this post has prompted you to reflect on your long and fruitful association with Michael Young organisations, Catherine. As you’ve mentioned Jesse’s guidance, I hope that means you are considering responding to the competition brief.

  • It reminds me of the Stanley Baxter sketch, lampooning an insurance company TV commercial, to show what a real Scottish Widow looks like..

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