Conference Agenda

RN10_07a: Social inequality in higher education
Thursday, 22/Aug/2019:
4:00pm - 5:30pm

Session Chair: Bernadette Brereton, Dundalk Institute of Technology
Location: UP.3.210
University of Manchester Building: University Place, Third Floor Oxford Road


Elite Pathways in the Meritocratic Sub-System of Chilean Higher Education

Pablo Lillo Cea

Uppsala University, Sweden

The implementation of neoliberal policies in Chile during the last three decades of the 20th century, made it possible for two parallel sub-systems of higher education to emerge and coexist. Though both include market-driven features, only one of them comprises the most traditional and prestigious institutions making it mandatory for the applicants to submit themselves to a merit-based admission process. Departing from a simple correspondence analysis of individual-based data from the national entry test for the period 2012-2017, this study maps out the uses that social elites make of this sub-system. Results show noticeable differences in recruitment patterns in relation to students’ social class origin, both for study programmes and institutions. Further, there is a sharp gender opposition among students originating from lower social classes, which tends to decrease at the elite pole of the space, where there is a dominance of private, non-traditional universities and programmes. The results also suggest that the observed recruitment patterns can be analysed in the perspective of the careers that different study orientations lead into, employing the notion of social field for understanding the social logic of meritocratic higher education in Chile. Findings testify of the existence of what Bourdieu named “refuge” study paths and institutions within the meritocratic sub-system of higher education. These seem to constitute back-doors designed for students with strong inherited capital who aim at obtaining prestigious credentials but fail to perform at the level required to get them.

Accessibility of Higher Education: 8 Dimensions of Accessibility.

Inne Vandyck, Inge Pasteels

PXL University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Belgium

Many OECD countries have witnessed a continued rise in the supply of tertiary education graduates. However, there is a large gap in enrollment and retention between students from disadvantaged backgrounds and students from advantaged backgrounds. Extensive research is done on the accessibility and retention rate of educational systems and institutions focusing either on the organisational level (accessibility of the institution) or the individual level (barriers to participate in education) and either on incoming students or transferring students. In this paper, we propose a multi-dimensional multi-actor framework in which accessibility of an educational institution is defined by 8 dimensions (e.g. affordability, availability, approachability, …) which can be applied on the organisational and individual level and in all phases of the educational career. Based on this framework, a questionnaire was developed to study the accessibility of one higher education institute for students with different ethnic backgrounds. Participating in nine departments, 9000 students were invited to fill in the questionnaire to provide us with information on the 8 dimensions of accessibility of the educational institute both retrospectively at the time of study choice as well as during their educational career. We aim to reveal barriers regarding accessibility and retention on both organisational and individual level.

Stratification in Unitary Higher Education Systems: the Case of Progression to Postgraduate Study in the UK

Jose Luis Mateos Gonzalez, Paul Wakeling

University of York, United Kingdom

In this presentation, we investigate institutional stratification in higher education through examining a novel empirical case: patterns of student mobility between undergraduate and postgraduate institutions. Since the early 1990s, UK higher education has witnessed a policy drive to create and consolidate a nominally unitary system via the liberalisation of the adoption of “university” titles. Academic research has, however, consistently found that the system’s homogeneity is only nominal, as stark differences in terms of institutional reputation, international projection, social and academic selectivity and graduate employment prospects –to name a few– are still to be found among previously formal institutional divisions (cf. Boliver 2015; Shavit, Arum, and Gamoran 2007; Marginson 2016). Theories about educational expansion, such as Lucas’ (2001) Effectively-Maintained Inequality hypothesis provide potential explanations of the links between institutional and social stratification.

Our contribution to this field extends the debate by looking at progression to postgraduate study of UK first-degree graduates. Using a very large dataset (N≈1,300,000) containing all UK-domiciled first-degree graduates between 2012/13 and 2016/17, we are able to track graduates post-graduate institutional pathways. We investigate the extent and nature of movement between institutions and types of institutions for those who progress to postgraduate degrees. We also consider how and whether this connects to graduates’ field of study and to their other characteristics, such as gender, race/ethnicity and socio-economic class. While we find a certain degree of ‘trading up’ of institutional status, our findings suggest a high degree of immobility between university types for those students deciding to enrol in postgraduate courses. These findings contribute to better understanding how stratification works in nominally unitary systems.

Diversity Management, the Social Dimension and the Covering up of Social Inequalities in Austrian Higher Education Institutions

Bernadette Müller Kmet

University of Innsbruck, Austria

The Austrian higher education policy – like the European higher education policy – has set the social dimension on the agenda. The objective is to provide previously underrepresented groups in higher education with greater access to tertiary education institutions and enable them to complete their studies successfully. One way to reach this goal, emphasis is led on diversity management. Student diversity is used to indicate equality and social inclusion (Archer 2007). Austrian higher education policy strategy papers provide guidelines to establish diversity management at higher education institutions in order to reduce inequalities in access and retention. At the level of the higher education institutions the social dimension as well as diversity management are neglected topics. They occur in the institutional development plans but resources and concrete actions are rare. The question arises if diversity management rather covers up certain forms of social inequalities, e.g. social class inequalities than helping to eliminate them. To investigate this question 12 expert interviews with staff of diversity management offices and working groups as well as document analyses were conducted. The results show that diversity management in five higher education institutions covers up social class inequalities and focus mainly on the categories gender and disability. The overall findings can be interpreted in line with the results of Archer (2007): Diversity management (a) detracts away from structural inequalities and goes along with individualistic, neoliberal framings; and (b) facilitates an audit-style approach to “managing” diversity.