srhe

The Society for Research into Higher Education

Ian Mc Nay


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Ian McNay writes…

By Ian McNay

How many Eleanors can you name? Roosevelt, Marx, Bron, Aquitaine, Rigby…add your own. Why am I asking this? Because it is a new metric for widening access. The recent issue of People Management, the journal of CIPD, reports that in 2014 the University of Oxford admitted more girls named Eleanor than students who had received free school meals. Those who were taught at private schools were 55% more likely to go to Oxbridge than student who received free school meals. Those two universities have even reduced the proportion of students they admitted who came from lower socio-economic groups in the decade from 2004=5, from 13.3% to 10% at Oxford and from 12.4% to 10.2% at Cambridge. Other Russell Group universities also recorded a fall, according to HESA data. So, second question: how many people do you know who have had free school meals or whose children have had? Not a visible/audible characteristic: they do not wear wristlet identifiers. But your university planning office will have the stats if you want to check its record. Continue reading

Penny Jane Burke


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Access and widening participation in higher education

By Penny-Jane Burke

Questions of access and widening participation continue to pose significant challenges for policy-makers and practitioners in higher education with enduring and persistent inequalities at play.  Research has a central role to play in shaping the future directions of equity policy and practice, creating innovative methodologies and providing detailed and nuanced analysis to examine and unearth the root causes of ongoing inequalities. Research has traced the ways that inequalities are exacerbated by the multiple uncertainties and complexities characterising contemporary higher education, with profound changes being shaped by externally imposed and interconnecting political forces including globalisation, neoliberalism, neoconservatism, corporatisation, neo-patriarchy and neocolonialism.

In this contemporary context of higher education, there is increasing pressure for universities to position themselves as ‘world-class’, to aggressively compete in a highly stratified field driven by discourses of ‘excellence’ and to address the expectations of an all embracing league table culture striking at the very heart of university research and teaching. The ways that ‘excellence’ is placed in tension with ‘equity’ is unspoken and both ‘excellence’ and ‘equity’ are reduced to measurable outputs. Against this hyper-competitive and hierarchical landscape, concerns about widening participation, equity and social justice have been narrowed to aspirations of employability, efficiency and competency, with a strong emphasis on business and economic imperatives and logics. Continue reading

MaryStuart


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Looking back to look forward at the student experience

By Mary Stuart

Attempting a review of work on the student experience over the last 50 years is daunting. The concept of the ‘student experience’ is so defuse and covers so many areas  that any review would be partial. However I will attempt to discuss what themes I believe to be important as they have emerged in research on the student experience in HE along with what questions have been asked by researchers of these themes and how these themes and questions relate to the rapidly, it seems looking back, changing higher education landscape.

I wish to place this discussion in the context of what I believe are the two overarching policy narratives which have shaped higher education since 1965 which have therefore driven the research and impact agendas for the student experience. The relationship between policy and research is complex, sometimes with research questions developing because of new policies and sometimes with research influencing new policy.  However all research on the student experience can be seen as deriving from the processes of the Massification and Marketisation of higher education, the two meta-narratives for HE in the last 50 years.  I will begin with Massification.

The concept of Massification in HE comes from Trow (1970) Continue reading

Simon Marginson


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Equality of opportunity: the first fifty years

By Simon Marginson

The article below is abridged from the keynote address given at the SRHE’s 50th Anniversary Colloquium at Church House, London on June 26th 2015.  The full text of this keynote address is available via www.srhe.ac.uk/downloads/SimonMarginsonKeynote.pdf 

Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-first Century (2014) clarifies  the distinction between (1)  societies in which incomes are relatively equal and/or there is a high degree of middle class growth and social mobility, which includes (albeit in different ways and for rather different reasons) both the Scandinavian countries and emerging East Asia; and (2) societies like the United States or the UK that are relatively closed in character, with highly unequal wage structures, growing capital concentrations, and static middle classes that are under considerable pressure to defend their past-gained economic and status positions. Continue reading

Vikki Boliver


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Universities must act collectively to remedy lower offer rates for ethnic minority applicants

By Vikki Boliver

The Runnymede Trust has just launched its publication Aiming Higher: Race, Inequality and Diversity in the Academy which shines a spotlight on ethnic inequalities in UK universities. The report brings together 15 short essays written by academics and policy makers which make clear that radical change is needed to address ethnic inequalities in university admissions, student experiences, degree attainments, graduate labour market outcomes, and access to academic positions especially at senior levels.

In my contribution to the Runnymede publication (see chapter 5) I focus on the issue of ethnic inequalities in university admissions chances. Although British ethnic minorities are more likely to go to university than their White British peers, some ethnic minority groups – notably the Black Caribbean, Black African, Pakistani and Bangladeshi groups – remain strikingly underrepresented in the UK’s most academically selective institutions including Russell Group universities. Of course this is partly due to ethnic inequalities in secondary school attainment which means that members of these groups are less likely to have the high grades required for entry to highly selective universities. But we also know, from analysing university admissions data that British ethnic minority applicants are less likely to be offered places at highly selective universities even when they have the same grades and ‘facilitating subjects’ at A-level as White British applicants. Continue reading


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Ethnicity trumps school background as a predictor of admission to elite UK universities

Kurien Parel

Kurien Parel

Vikki Boliver

Vikki Boliver

By Kurien Parel and Vikki Boliver 

Last year an article in the Guardian newspaper described significant disparities in the success rates of white and non-white applicants to the University of Oxford, even among students who received top grades at A-level.  The article, by Kurien Parel and James Ball, reported that, in 2010-11, offer rates were around 1.5 times higher for white applicants than for ethnic minority applicants with the same grades, and up to twice as high in relation to Oxford’s two most oversubscribed subjects, Medicine, and Economics and Management. This pattern was found to hold even for students with 3+ A* grades at A-level.

Of course, A-level performance is not the only criterion for admission to Oxford or other Russell Group universities. Indeed, admissions decisions are often made before A-level results are known, on the basis of predicted A-level grades, prior grades achieved at AS-level and GCSE, references, personal statements, and other criteria. Moreover, certain degree subjects have certain A-level subject prerequisites.

Nevertheless, the figures reported in the Guardian appear to contradict claims made on behalf of Oxford University that ethnic differences in offer rates are due to ethnic disparities in academic attainment at schools as reflected in A-level grades coupled with the fact ethnic minorities apply disproportionately to more competitive subjects such as Medicine.

Some have speculated that ethnic minority applicants to Oxford have lower offer rates because they are more likely to have attended non-selective state schools. Such schools are thought to be less adept at helping applicants prepare for university-administered tests and admissions interviews than state grammar schools and private fee-paying schools.

Expand below to read the full article