ERG SES G 12, Research in Higher Education
The facts are stark. Oxbridge graduates make up “75% of senior judges, 59% of cabinet posts . . . 50% of diplomats, 47% of newspaper columnists . . .” (The Guardian, 2014). Clearly, those that attend what are arguably the world’s two leading institutions (THE, n.d.) go on to have a huge influence on the societies they serve. But are these graduates representative of these societies? The facts here are also stark: no. More than 40% of students at Oxford (HESA, 2018a) previously attended private schools - over 30% more than would be considered representative (DfE, 2018a). Certain ethnic minorities are seriously underrepresented too. For example, in 2015, a third of Oxford colleges did not admit a single Black student (Guardian, 2017). Moreover, social and ethnic inequalities are prevalent within many other high-status institutions too (HESA, 2018a, Hemsley-Brown, 2015, Boliver, 2016).
Studies and statistics such as those highlighted have led to increased efforts to widen participation to elite universities in the UK and some small increases in the number of students from underrepresented groups admitted have been achieved (DfE, 2018b, HESA, 2018b). However, enduring inequalities remain and an area of increasing interest for research and policy is the role of geography in compounding these inequalities. This is the focus of my doctoral research.
A critical realist framework has been adopted, selected for its emancipatory dimension (Baert, 2015) and viewpoint that unobservable structures are the cause of the observable inequalities in society (Matthews and Ross, 2010). This perspective is sustained by previous studies (including Manley and Johnson, 2014 and Wright, 2014) that clearly demonstrate both observable characteristics of areas of low elite university participation, as well as the suggestion of underlying structures that may be the cause of these.
There are two principal objectives to my research; firstly, to identify which geographical areas are underrepresented in progression to elite universities (adopting a more comprehensive definition of ‘elite’ than that used in previous research) and, secondly, to explore the underlying reasons for this with the aim of producing recommendations for widening participation practitioners.
Moreover, whilst my doctoral research is focussed on the UK, this is also an important issue for many other countries too – making my research relevant beyond the UK context. For example, until very recently French universities – especially those within the capital - were bound by strict course-specific limits with regards to admitting students from outside their localities (THE, 2019). Accordingly, students living just outside Paris were often prevented from attending universities within the city – including some of France’s most highly regarded like the Sorbonne - and creating a “real sense of spatial discrimination, and social discrimination” (THE, 2019). Recent reforms now permit more inter-regional movement, however the topic remains pertinent.
Conversely, whilst France hopes its loosening of regional quotas will reduce spatial inequalities in university access, some countries are aiming to address the same issue in introducing them. For example, the US states of California and Texas guarantee a university place to any student that scores in the top 10 percent of their high school, thus ensuring that the context in which students have grown up is considered. Support for a similar approach is gaining in the UK too (Elliot-Major and Machin, 2018).
What is clear is that there is increasing recognition globally that where you grow up impacts on your life chances and - in an era of risk - this matters to us all. For this reason, my research stands to make an important contribution both within and beyond the UK context and accordingly offers an important topic for discussion at the ERC 2019.
A mixed-methods approach has been adopted. The initial quantitative phase of the research is ongoing and involves analysis of a Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) data extract. HESA data records all students enrolled on Higher Education courses that are primarily UK-based. The extract being analysed contains the data for all UK-domiciled, first-degree entrants across five separate cohorts. Through multiple membership multilevel modelling, the interactions between individual characteristics (including attainment, socio-economic status, ethnicity and gender), as well as students’ school characteristics, are being explored in conjunction with students’ home localities to examine the compounding effect of place on elite university progression. A bespoke elite university construct - comprising 43 UK institutions – has been created and progression to either a university within the construct or to an alternative institution forms the binary outcome variable of the modelling process. Use of this bespoke construct challenges the frequent use within previous research of the Russell Group as a proxy for elite (e.g. Manley and Johnson, 2014, Wright, 2014, Hemsley-Brown, 2015 etc.) and its creation will be discussed in further detail with the conference paper. The geographical hierarchy used to quantify students’ localities is the Lower Super Output Area (LSOA) hierarchy used by the Office for National Statistics. Each LSOA has a population between 1,000 and 3,000 (ONS, n.d.) and constitutes a hierarchy large enough for its use to be practical, yet small enough to enable fine-grained investigation. Analysis of the HESA extract is due for completion within the next few months and as such it is expected that the findings can be discussed within the paper presented. It is anticipated that this initial quantitative exploratory phase of research will lead to the identification of localities where progression rates to elite universities are higher or lower than would be expected. From these areas, two of lower than expected progression will be selected as case studies and within each area, one case study school. In line with the critical realist theoretical framework, interviews with students, teachers and parents, followed by detailed thematic analysis, will be carried out in the aim of identifying the underlying generative mechanisms in the underrepresentation of these areas. Two areas of higher than expected participation will also be selected and similar interviews conducted with the aim of examining which generative mechanisms have contributed to the success of these areas.
It is anticipated that the initial quantitative phase of research will enable identification of progression rates to elite universities by local area across the whole of the UK – and in particular – to identify areas of lower and higher than expected elite university progression, as well as the outward characteristics of these areas. The second qualitative phase of research should enable exploration of the underlying generative mechanisms behind the outward characteristics observed in under/overrepresented areas and previous research suggests that individual perceptions of ‘one’s place’ (e.g. Bourdieu, 1993, Donnelly and Evans, 2016), as well as the aspirations and expectations of individuals, parents and schools (e.g. Reay et al. 2001, Ball et al., 2002, Taylor et al., 2018 etc.) amongst other concepts may all have some role to play. The identification of geographical areas to be targeted, as well as increased understanding of why these areas are underrepresented should enable recommendations for widening participation practitioners to be included within the thesis. Following publication, it is hoped that the research could have policy implications for the UK including: Motivate expansion of the UK government’s Participation of Local Areas (POLAR) classification (OfS, n.d.-a) to include the option of looking at how likely young people are to progress to an elite university by local area. Motivate expansion/launch of a similar programme to the England-based National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP) (OfS, n.d.-b) focussed on areas where, when attainment is considered, we would expect there to be higher rates of progression to elite universities. In addition, it is hoped that the findings, recommendations and any resulting policy initiatives will be influential on a transnational level within research and policy on elite university access. For example, in France, where there are spatial inequalities in access to some of the capital’s top institutions (THE, 2019).
Adams, R., and H. Bengtsson, 2017, Oxford accused of ‘social apartheid’ as colleges admit no black students, The Guardian. Available online at: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/oct/19/oxford-accused-of-social-apartheid-as-colleges-admit-no-black-students (accessed 30 January 2019). Arnett, G., 2014, Elitism in Britain - breakdown by profession, The Guardian. Available online at:https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2014/aug/28/elitism-in-britain-breakdown-by-profession (accessed 30 January 2019). Boliver, V., 2016, Exploring Ethnic Inequalities in Admission to Russell Group Universities: Sociology, v. 50, p. 247-266. Department for Education, 2018a, Schools, pupils and their characteristics: January 2018. Available online at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/719226/Schools_Pupils_and_their_Characteristics_2018_Main_Text.pdf (accessed 30 January 2019) Department for Education, 2018b, Widening Participation in Higher Education, England, 2016/17 age cohort - Official Statistics. Available online at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/757897/WP2018-MainText.pdf (accessed 30 January 2019) Donnelly, M., and C. Evans, 2016, Framing the geographies of higher education participation: schools, place and national identity: British Educational Research Journal, v. 42, p. 74-92. Elliot Major, L., and S. Machin, 2018, Social Mobility: And Its Enemies: London, Pelican Books. Hemsley-Brown, J., 2015, Getting into a Russell Group University: High Scores and Private Schooling: British Educational Research Journal, v. 41, p. 398-422. Higher Education Statistics Agency, 2018a, Widening participation: UK Performance Indicators 2016/17. Available online at: https://www.hesa.ac.uk/news/01-02-2018/widening-participation-tables (accessed 30 January 2019). Higher Education Statistics Agency, 2018b, Widening participation summary: UK Performance Indicators 2016/17. Available online at: https://www.hesa.ac.uk/news/01-02-2018/widening-participation-summary (accessed 30 January 2019). Manley, D., and R. Johnston, 2014, School, Neighbourhood, and University: The Geographies of Educational Performance and Progression in England: Applied Spatial Analysis and Policy, v. 7, p. 259-282. Office for Students, n.d.-a, Map of young participation areas. Available online at: https://www.officeforstudents.org.uk/data-and-analysis/polar-participation-of-local-areas/map-of-young-participation-areas/ (accessed 30 January 2019) Office for Students, n.d.-b, National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP). Available online at: https://www.officeforstudents.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/promoting-equal-opportunities/national-collaborative-outreach-programme-ncop/ (accessed 30 January 2019) Times Higher Education, n.d., World University Rankings 2019. Available online at: https://www.timeshighereducation.com/world-university-rankings/2019/world-ranking#!/page/0/length/25/sort_by/rank/sort_order/asc/cols/stats (accessed 30 January 2019). Times Higher Education, 2019, French university admissions: the crème de la crème? Available online at: https://www.timeshighereducation.com/features/french-university-admissions-creme-de-la-creme (accessed 30 January 2019) Wright, C., 2014, Post-16 and Higher Education: A Multilevel Analysis of Educational Participation in England, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK.
00. Central Events (Keynotes, EERA-Panel, EERJ Round Table, Invited Sessions)
Network 1. Continuing Professional Development: Learning for Individuals, Leaders, and Organisations
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