22 SES 02 A, Inclusion and Diversity In Higher Education Settings
Parallel Paper Session
During the past 30 years, higher education (HE) has been seen as a means of promoting social mobility and social well-being across Europe. However, the current economic crisis, accompanied by increasingly high levels of unemployment in many European countries, have led to talk of a ‘lost generation’ of young people, whose futures look bleak in terms of paid work, as well as the opportunities to lead the sort of life they would choose for themselves.
In this context of high levels of uncertainty and risk for young people’s future lives, research has found concerted attempts by middle class families to secure and protect the social positioning of their children through successful educational outcomes (e.g. Themelis, 2008; Devine, 2009). In particular this has involved diverse strategies to secure the best possible university education for their children. The extent to which students themselves engage in strategies to mobilise resources in order to secure successful outcomes at university, and successful career progression, has been less researched.
This paper draws on data from a study of working-class and middle-class students attending two different types of university in the same city in England: an elite university and a modern university. England is currently unusual in Europe in its HE policy response to the economic crisis, with a tripling of university fees for students, and an expectation of a reduction in student numbers. These contracting numbers following decades of expansion, and changes to funding regimes, mean the issue of strategic positioning and mobilisation of resources increases during this period of austerity, with university access remaining a key social justice concern given the graduate entry-level requirement of middle-class careers.
This paper focuses on the strategies that students, rather than their parents, may engage in, to mobilise and enhance their social, cultural and academic capital during their university study.
The paper addresses the following questions:
In what ways do students seek to mobilise different forms of capital during university study?
Are there differences in the mobilisation of capital between working-class and middle-class students?
Are there differences between the two universities (one ‘elite’ and one ‘modern’) in the mobilisation of capital?
What are the implications for students’ progress and progression through HE study?
The analysis of the data draws upon theorists employing Bourdieu’s conceptual tools (e.g. Bourdieu, 1986; Clegg, 2011; van der Werfhorst, 2010) to examine differing processes of capital mobilisation and acquisition by HE students and their families to enhance future social positioning. In particular, the analysis highlights efforts by those occupying insecure or contradictory class positions, i.e. those operating at the boundaries of social hierarchies or straddling both working- and middle-class positions simultaneously, to avoid downward and increase the chances of upward social mobility.
Bourdieu, P. (1986) ‘The forms of Capital’ in Richardson, J. Handbook of Theory and Research in Education, Westport, CT: Greenwood pp. 241-258. Brown, P. (2003) ‘The Opportunity Trap: Education and employment in a global economy’, European Educational Research Journal, 2(1) pp. 142-180. Clegg, S. (2011) ‘Cultural Capital and Agency: Connecting critique and curriculum in higher education’, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 32(1) pp. 93-108. Devine, D. (2009) ‘Mobilising capitals? Migrant children's negotiation of their everyday lives in school’, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 30(5) pp. 521-535 Themelis, S. (2008) ‘Meritocracy through Education and Mobility in Post-War Britain: A critical examination’, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 29(5) pp. 427-438. van der Werfhorst, H. ( 2010) ‘Cultural Capital: Strengths, weaknesses and two advancements’, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 31(2) pp. 157-169.
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