22 SES 13 B, Universities and Social Justice: Research From a Human Development and Human Capabilities Perspective
First generation students are an underrepresented group in European higher education. In 100 EU students whose parents completed lower secondary education, 17 completed a higher education degree. This is even lower in Portugal, where only 10% of students from low socio economic (LSE) backgrounds succeed in obtaining a degree. Such data point to the need to research higher education experiences on a micro level in order to hear the voices of LSE background students and identify what shapes their motivation to proceed and to succeed. Based on 12 in-depth biographical interviews with students from one Portuguese university, this paper introduces the capability to belong, drawing conceptually on Putnam’s social capital and the capability approach of Sen and Nussbaum (particularly capabilities for emotions and affiliation). I argue that the capability to belong (that is, to actively participate and be a member of several groups) is central to first generation student experiences, as it allows individuals to get involved in the community and grants them (through collective relations) the respect and necessary self confidence to follow through on their academic path. Furthermore, the paper elaborates on the close interconnection of the capability to belong and resilience among first generation students.
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