22 SES 11 B, Prospects for Transitions: Equity and Differentiation in Marketised HE Systems
This paper provides the context for understanding higher education marketisation, differentiation and equity in England. It describes the roots of widening participation work in institutional practice and then government policy from the 1970s onwards. It goes on to trace the beginnings of state involvement in widening participation, following the Dearing Report and the election of a New Labour government in 1997. It then tracks the intensification of market approaches within higher education, the resultant sharpening of institutional differentiation manifested in the distinction between those focusing on social mobility for (only) the brightest and those engaged in generic aspiration-raising outreach among all young people. It explores the tensions between these two developments and their competing claims made about increasing equity and diversity in the higher education population. Using empirical data derived from policy discourse analysis and interviews with key institutional policymakers the paper goes into a deeper exploration of the rise of the notion of the ‘student-as-consumer’ and its impact on institutional behaviour. It suggests the unpredictability of the different institutional responses to market interventions by the state, in particular attempts to concentrate the highest qualified applicants and the most prestigious institutions in a 'premium' market segment. It also discusses the significance of the growing involvement of private providers in English higher education who are incentivised to offer cheaper alternatives to traditional university education in order to create a tuition fee distribution that reflects the lower quality of a 'value' market segment. It suggests that those institutions in the middle of the distribution are thus pressurised by league tables and other indicators of esteem, to alter the balance of their provision in ways that are often detrimental to widening access and act to reduce system diversity.
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