22 SES 06 D, Social Justice & Responsibilities in Higher Education
Education policy across the EU focuses on combating diversity and enabling all students to succeed in higher education and develop their skills, irrespective of their gender, personal characteristics and socioeconomic background. However, research shows that access, success and chances of higher education remain socially and spatially differentiated. The higher education systems reproduce the diversity and inequalities reflected in the wider society. Non-privileged social groups persistently achieve less in higher education, despite the policies and practices at a national, supra-national and institutional level designed to redress these inequalities and promote inclusion.
In the last decades, widening participation in higher education has resulted in a transition from an ‘elite’ to a ‘mass’ higher education in many European countries. Providing equal opportunities to social groups previously underrepresented in higher education is officially presented as the main reason for the aforementioned expansion. International educational policy focuses on how the education systems, through their organisation and practices, promote social just practices and make higher education equally accessible to all. Many studies examine whether social inequalities have started to decrease and who has benefited from widening participation policies in higher education. Despite the implementation of policies aiming at widening participation in higher education in many countries, inequalities persist (Burke, 2012; Αrcher, 2007). The participation of disadvantaged groups in higher education triggers new forms of inequalities and increase heterogeneity creating new challenges for higher education policy agenda (Crozier et al., 2008; Αrcher et al., 2003).
In the Greek context, the participation of disadvantaged groups in higher education (HE) has been widened recently through the national legislation HE framework, raising, however, issues related to how students with disadvantaged background cope with the academic demands, especially when attending high status university departments. Because of the current economic crisis and the migration and refugee flows in Greece, issues of inequalities and disadvantaged students’ support become even more timely. In Greece, few studies have been conducted on social class, discrimination and inequalities in higher education. These studies indicate that disadvantaged HE students confront difficulties at university, such as discrimination, low academic performance, delayed completion of studies and dropouts (Sianou- Kyrgiou, 2015).
To cover this lacuna, an ongoing research project is being conducted in Greece entitled “Educational trajectories in Greek higher education: Diversity, Inequalities and Inclusion” (University of Ioannina, Greece, academic year 2018-2019) investigating aspects of the aforementioned issues and drawing attention to the support provision towards disadvantaged students.
Drawing on Bourdieu’s (2004) concepts, this paper uses ‘habitus’ and ‘capital’ to understand university practices on combating inequalities and exclusions in Greek higher education system. In particular, the paper deploys “institutional habitus” (Reay et al., 2001) in combination with students’ individual habitus to interpret university support policies and practices provided to HE students of disadvantaged backgrounds across the three universities under study. Fraser’s (1997) social justice concepts also underpin our attempt to better understand higher institutions’ measures put in place to support HE disadvantaged students as well as students’ accounts on universities’ practices towards diversity, equity and inclusion.
The paper presents part of the research project’s findings, focusing on the ways HE institutions promote social justice and support their disadvantaged students throughout their studies. In particular, the paper stresses the importance of student services the way they are presented through official national documents and university websites but also the impact of student support services on disadvantaged students’ trajectories at the three Greek universities under study mainly through the accounts of those involved (students and university staff/directors). This paper examines how support provision towards disadvantaged students a) is presented and approached through the official national legislation - analysis of official documents/laws; b) is designed and implemented at the level of three higher education institutions - analysis of the three institutions’ websites and semi-structured interviews with university directors; c) is experienced by disadvantaged students attending the three universities under study - in-depth interviews with HE students who belong to disadvantaged groups. In terms of the projects’ methodology, the three universities have been selected under the criteria of different history, location and organisational structure as each institution represents an analytical case for the Greek system. The first one (UniA) is a historical prestigious university in the capital The second one (UniB) is an old university located in a city of 170,000 residents in the west region of the country. The third university (UniC) is a modern decentralised institution operating in small campuses located in five different cities of south Greece.
Preliminary findings from our on-going research show that policies promoting the expansion of higher education in Greece have not resulted in overcoming social inequalities so far. Consequently, policies and practices for student support is an important factor which needs to be further investigated. Apart from covering a lacuna in the literature on retention and university student support practices in Greek higher education system, this research is expected to produce results that can critically inform domestic and European higher education policy and practice at two levels. First, it permits a deeper understanding of the changing and complex social nature of the highly differentiated students’ population “needs”. Accordingly, it reflects on the various kinds of interventions for supporting students, such as scholarships, academic mentoring, career counceling, psychological support etc., that can/ or cannot promote and establish strong notions of social justice and inclusion for higher education sector, especially in favour of less privileged students. This study will hopefully contribute to a clearer picture of policies and practices towards supporting disadvantaged students at university – with an emphasis on the Greek context. Moreover, it will inform European stakeholders who need to collaborate and exchange information about best practice and positive interventions in order to better support disadvantaged students in higher education across Europe.
Archer, L. (2007). Diversity, equality and higher education: a critical reflection on the ab/uses of equity discourse within widening participation. Teaching in higher Education, 12(5-6), 635-653. Archer, L., Hutchings, M., & Ross, A. (2003).Higher education and Social class: Issues of exclusion and inclusion. London and New York: RoutledgeFalmer. Bourdieu, P. (2004/1986).The Forms of Capital. In S. Ball (Ed.), The RoutledgeFalmer Reader in Sociology of Education (pp. 15-29). London, New York: Routledge. Burke, P. J. (2012). The Right to Higher Education. London: Routledge Crozier, G., Reay, D., Clayton, J., Colliander, L., &Grinstead, J. (2008). Different strokes for different folks: diverse students in diverse institutions–experiences of higher education. Research papers in education, 23(2), 167-177. Fraser, N. (1997). Justice interrupts: Critical reflections on the "postsocialist" condition. New York: Routledge. Reay, D., David, M. and Ball, S. (2001). Making a Difference? Institutional habituses and higher education choice, Sociological Research Online, 5(4). Sianou‐Kyrgiou, E. (2010). Stratification in Higher Education, Choice and Social Inequalities in Greece. Higher Education Quarterly, 64, 22-40
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