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'Barriers' to participation in higher education? : depends who you ask and how

Fuller, Alison and Foskett, Ros and Paton, Karen and Maringe, Felix (2008) 'Barriers' to participation in higher education? : depends who you ask and how. Widening Participation and Lifelong Learning, 10 (2). pp. 6-17.

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In this article, we draw on evidence from a large-scale research project to explore the metaphorical concept of "barriers" to participation in higher education (HE) and to show how our data challenge the idea that non-participation by under-represented groups can be attributed to individuals experiencing a range of readily identifiable barriers. First, we briefly outline the perspectives of policy and practice stakeholders in widening participation (WP) in HE which suggest that the discourse of barriers is central to their understanding of "non-participation" and how to reduce it. Second, we introduce findings from two case studies. Each case study consists of interviews with an individual aged over 21 who has the qualifications (level 3) to enter HE but who has not (yet) done so, as well as members of his or her self-nominated "networks of intimacy" (Heath and Cleaver, 2003) consisting of friends and family. These interviewees do not tend to talk in terms of barriers in their accounts of their educational, employment and personal histories and the influences on their participation decisions. This evidence suggests that patterns of participation and non-participation in HE are strongly embedded in and explained by people's interwoven social, historical and biographical circumstances and experience. This article contributes to the debate about the utility of the barriers metaphor and challenges the policy assumption that individual non-participation can be "solved" solely by the removal of predefined obstacles. We conclude by arguing that the opportunity to collect multiple accounts with members of social networks indicates the value of looking at participation in and decision-making about education across the life course and as a socially embedded practice.

Item Type: Article
Divisions: IOE Departments > Departments > Lifelong and Comparative Education
Depositing User: Atira Pure
Date Deposited: 17 Feb 2014 10:01
Last Modified: 29 Jan 2015 09:07
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