Higher Education and Social Class: Issues of Exclusion and Inclusion

Higher Education and Social Class: Issues of Exclusion and Inclusion

Higher Education and Social Class: Issues of Exclusion and Inclusion

Higher Education and Social Class: Issues of Exclusion and Inclusion

Synopsis

Working class groups have historically been excluded from participation in higher education. Past decades have seen an expansion of the system towards a more inclusive higher education, but participation among people from working class groups has remained persistently low. Is higher education unattractive for these groups or are the institutions acting to exclude them? This thought-provoking and revealing book examines the many factors and reasons why working class groups are under-represented in higher education. In particular, the book addresses issues around differential access to information about university, the value of higher education to working class groups, the costs of participating and the propensity to participate. Issues of gender and ethnicity are also explored and questions are raised for those who are currently involved in 'widening participation' projects and initiatives. A unique feature of the book is that its findings are drawn from an innovative study where the views of both working class participants and non-participants in higher education were explored. This book will be of interest to students of social policy, educational studies and sociology of education at undergraduate and postgraduate level. Academics, researchers and policy makers nationally and internationally will also find it valuable.

Excerpt

Internationally there is a growing concern to increase, and diversify, the numbers of students in higher education (HE) (OECD 2001). These drives to widen participation are motivated by a number of factors, including economic, institutional and social justice concerns, which are framed within the globalization of the knowledge economy/knowledge society. In this book we focus upon the specific UK context, although many of the issues raised will resonate internationally to all those who are engaged in efforts to widen university participation to students from 'non-traditional' backgrounds. Within the UK, the government has explicitly stated one of its aims as being to widen participation in HE to 50 per cent of 18-30-year-olds by the year 2010. To achieve this target of widened (not merely increased) participation, new students will need to be recruited from previously under-represented groups. Currently, almost all young people from middle-class and professional families go on to university. Participation among young people from working-class groups has remained persistently low. Thus young workingclass groups are a key target of initiatives aimed at widening participation in post-compulsory education.

In this book we explore issues around social class and widening participation, with particular reference to working-class groups. We discuss patterns of participation, potential reasons for the under-representation of workingclass groups in HE and we address the factors and barriers that prevent participation, raising questions and implications in relation to current debates. We supplement and illustrate our arguments with data collected as part of a research study (the Social Class and Widening Participation in Higher Education Project conducted between 1998 and 2001) based at the University of North London (now London Metropolitan University). The book thus draws together research data with theoretical and policy literature in order to address issues around the participation of working-class groups in higher education.

Although education has often been portrayed in terms of its positive and liberatory potential, not least within more recent widening participation and lifelong learning rhetoric, there is also a long history of sociological

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