Higher Education Expansion and Student Choices: A Critical Analysis

  • Dennis Beach


This chapter takes in one sense a different tack to the previous chapters but deals with an extension of a key related aspect of the phenomena of self-superiority and inferiority described there. Its focus is on higher education choices as part of the new politics of student responsibilisation. From an article by Beach and Puaca in 2014 in the European Journal of Higher Education, it refers initially to the past two decades of higher education research in Europe that have brought shifts in the way institutions of higher education are defined and run, justify their existence and practices, and recruit and educate students. New demands are described as having been placed on university teachers, students and leadership, including an expanded role for student choices of and in higher education, and it is these choices, the ways in which they are accounted for, and the kinds of entitlement and empowerment they enable (or oppose) that are in focus.

The chapter challenges previous research that has suggested that the expansion of higher education and the proliferation of student choices may be empowering for all students, as these choice systems give them a stronger voice in, greater responsibility for, and more control over their education. Instead of this, material empowerment seems to be highly socially differentiated because of the importance of socio-cultural resources and how they seem to interact with and even influence student choices.

What is very clear in the chapter is that selections of and into more and less prestigious university courses and programmes are unevenly distributed and influenced by class, gender, age, social (including family) responsibilities and ethnic background, and that there is a class of differences in how choices are explained and motivated by the choosers. An ethics of care predominates in the choices of non-elite choice-makers, whilst an ideology of accumulation does so in relation to the choices made by elite education choosers. Mapping onto the findings discussed in Chaps.  3,  4 and  5, the concept of working class relationality from Bright and Smyth (Ethnogr Educ 11:123–128, 2016) and Smyth (Ethnogr Educ 11: 129–141, 2016) is considered as carrying some explanatory power along with Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus and cultural capital and Young’s concept of structural injustice and oppression.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dennis Beach
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Education and Special EducationUniversity of GothenburgGöteborgSweden

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