Widening and expanding participation in Australian higher education: In the absence of sociological imagination

Abstract

Social inclusion in Australian higher education was high on the agenda of the recent Rudd/Gillard Australian Government. This paper offers an assessment of that agenda, particularly the extent to which it worked in favour of under-represented groups. It argues that the Government’s widening and expansion policies and its equity and aspiration strategies lacked sociological imagination, projecting deficits onto individuals who refused to be taken in by its ambitions for higher education participation. The paper concludes that in the absence of a sociological imagination in government policy, the freedoms of disadvantaged groups continued to be curtailed: not just to choose futures in keeping with their goals but also the freedom to formulate choices.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    An extended history and genesis of the Bradley Review, its take up in Australian Government policy, and how those policies have played out can be found in a number of accounts, including Gale and Tranter 2011; Gale 2012; Gale and Parker 2013; Gale and Hodge 2014

  2. 2.

    http://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/nov/15/motivation-and-aspiration-whats-the-point?CMP=fb_gu

  3. 3.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-24936416.

  4. 4.

    The qualification here is that ‘under-representation’ in and of itself is not a sufficient condition for receiving ‘special treatment’ (e.g. the under-representation of males in teacher education courses is not usually seen to be an equity issue for males). For a group to be designated an equity group, it also needs to be socially, economically and/or educationally disadvantaged in one way or another

  5. 5.

    The first three of these were re-affirmed as target groups in the 2009 Australian Government policy statement, Transforming Australia’s Higher Education System

  6. 6.

    See https://web.archive.org/web/20130116074252/http://www.innovation.gov.au/HigherEducation/Equity/HigherEducationParticipationAndPartnershipsProgram/Pages/default.aspx.

  7. 7.

    Central Queensland is one of the most concentrated low SES areas in the nation.

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Acknowledgments

I am grateful to Stephen Parker and Tebeje Molla, with whom I have been in conversation about these matters for some time now and who read and commented on earlier versions of this paper. I am also grateful for the support of The Warrnambool Collective. An earlier version of this paper was published in H. Zhang, P. Chan & C. Boyle (Eds.) Equality in education: Fairness and inclusion. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

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Gale, T. Widening and expanding participation in Australian higher education: In the absence of sociological imagination. Aust. Educ. Res. 42, 257–271 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13384-014-0167-7

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Keywords

  • Higher education
  • Widening participation
  • Equity
  • Aspiration
  • Sociological imagination