22 SES 12 B, Theoretical Perspectives on Access to Higher Education: Contrasting insights from Bourdieu, Archer, Simon and Kahneman
Encouraging prospective students to make ‘better’ decisions about higher education is a concern of many governments, especially in countries where rapid marketisation is differentiating the sector and adding to the envelope of choices available. One element of this concern is often about whether disadvantaged young people apply to university, the courses they select and where they choose to study. There may be a tacit assumption that students are poor consumers within the marketplace and that this needs policy intervention. However, the same processes that are driving the creation of new choices also makes it increasingly difficult for young people to make those choices, with uncertainty economic and social rewards from higher education. This paper will focus its attention on the work of two internationally-relevant scholars: American Herbert Simon and Israeli Daniel Kahneman. Both are Nobel Laureates in economics, but their work actually focuses on the psycho-social elements of individuals making complex decisions where events and outcomes are uncertain. The relevance of this to decisions around higher education is readily apparent, but their theoretical insights have rarely been used in this field. Simon’s (1955, 1979, 1987, 2000 theory of ‘bounded rationality’ lies at the heart of this: ‘Rationality is bounded when it falls short of omniscience. And the failures of omniscience are largely failures of knowing all the alternatives, uncertainty about relevant exogenous events, and inability to calculate consequences’ (Simon, 1979, p. 502). Bounded rationality does not argue that decisions and the people taking them are inherently irrational, but that there are realistic limits on the ability of people to weigh complex options in a fully logical and objective way. Kahneman’s development of Simon’s work culminated in ‘prospect theory’ (Kahneman and Tversky, 1979; Kahneman, 2003, 2011), which has experimentally demonstrated that complex decisions tend to be intuitive, emotionally grounded, rely on stereotypes and be short-term in nature: ‘the long term is not where life is lived’ (Kahneman, 2003, p.1457). The paper will summarise recent attempts (Harrison, 2017) to apply Simon and Kahneman’s work to higher education decisions, focusing on the information and guidance that is available to young people about the financial and other returns from higher education given the uncertainties surrounding future graduate employment. It will also problematise some of the widely-held assumptions about the ‘riskiness’ of higher education for disadvantaged groups, repositioning risk attitudes more in social terms rather than financial ones, examining how normative expectations shape decisions.
References Harrison, N. 2017. Student choices under uncertainty: bounded rationality and behavioural economics, in A. Mountford-Zimdars and N. Harrison (eds.) Access to Higher Education: Theoretical Perspectives and Contemporary Challenges, Abingdon: Routledge. Kahneman, D. 2003. Maps of bounded rationality: psychology of behavioural economics. American Economic Review 93(5): 1449-1475. Kahneman, D. 2011. Thinking, fast and slow. London: Penguin. Kahneman, D. and A. Tversky. 1979. Prospect theory: an analysis of decision under risk. Econometrica 47(2): 263-292. Simon, H. 1955. A behavioural model of rational choice. Quarterly Journal of Economics 69(1):99-118. Simon, H. 1979. Rational decision-making in business organisations. American Economic Review 69(4): 493-513. Simon, H. 1987. Making management decisions: the role of intuition and emotion. Academy of Management 1(1): 57-64. Simon, H. 2000. Bounded rationality in social science: today and tomorrow. Mind and Society 1(1): 25-39.
00. Central Events (Keynotes, EERA-Panel, EERJ Round Table, Invited Sessions)
Network 1. Continuing Professional Development: Learning for Individuals, Leaders, and Organisations
Network 2. Vocational Education and Training (VETNET)
Network 3. Curriculum Innovation
Network 4. Inclusive Education
Network 5. Children and Youth at Risk and Urban Education
Network 6. Open Learning: Media, Environments and Cultures
Network 7. Social Justice and Intercultural Education
Network 8. Research on Health Education
Network 9. Assessment, Evaluation, Testing and Measurement
Network 10. Teacher Education Research
Network 11. Educational Effectiveness and Quality Assurance
Network 12. LISnet - Library and Information Science Network
Network 13. Philosophy of Education
Network 14. Communities, Families and Schooling in Educational Research
Network 15. Research Partnerships in Education
Network 16. ICT in Education and Training
Network 17. Histories of Education
Network 18. Research in Sport Pedagogy
Network 19. Ethnography
Network 20. Research in Innovative Intercultural Learning Environments
Network 22. Research in Higher Education
Network 23. Policy Studies and Politics of Education
Network 24. Mathematics Education Research
Network 25. Research on Children's Rights in Education
Network 26. Educational Leadership
Network 27. Didactics – Learning and Teaching
The programme is updated regularly (each day in the morning)
- Search for keywords and phrases in "Text Search"
- Restrict in which part of the abstracts to search in "Where to search"
- Search for authors and in the respective field.
- For planning your conference attendance you may want to use the conference app, which will be issued some weeks before the conference
- If you are a session chair, best look up your chairing duties in the conference system (Conftool) or the app.