The official discourse of fair access to higher education

The official discourse of fair access to higher education

Journal: Widening Participation and Lifelong Learning
Year: 2013
Authors: Bravenboer D
DOI: 10.5456/WPLL.14.3.120
Despite significant public investment in the sector, selective universities in the UK have made little if any progress in widening participation over the last ten years. There are also increasing incentives for universities to become more selective in the context of government-driven higher education market competition. At the same time, while some universities may view the pursuit of academic excellence as incompatible with widening participation, key policy documents have consistently included descriptions of a variety of strategies designed to promote wider and fairer access. This paper is concerned with how the idea of fair access has been constructed within official higher education discourse. A method of ‘constructive description’ is employed to analyse the discursive strategies at play within selected governmental texts. The analysis indicates that the primacy of institutional autonomy in the official discourse of fair access operates to exclude descriptions of a ‘common currency’ of merit and potential, which may leave potentially unfair admissions practices unchallenged. The paper proposes a change in ‘mind set’ from universities operating as exclusive ‘gate keepers’ admitting students, to that of the inclusive recognition of applicants’ merit and potential. This may have significant implications for admissions policy, particularly in the light of the shift away from traditional models of funding towards empowering individual or employer ‘buyers’ in the higher education market.
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