Widening Participation in France and Its Effects on the Field of Elite Higher Education and on Educational Policy

  • Agnès van ZantenEmail author
Part of the Education Policy & Social Inequality book series (EPSI, volume 1)


This chapter analyzes policies of widening participation (WP) in elite higher education institutions and, more specifically, the programs launched in France in the early 2000s. Although these policies concern a small number of beneficiaries and are still far from significantly improving the access of disadvantaged students to the most selective sector of higher education, they represent an interesting object of study for sociologists of education for at least two reasons. The first is that these policies have to some extent modified the internal power relations between institutions in the field of elite higher education. The second is that the institutions involved have proposed analyses of, and solutions to, educational inequalities that have influenced the way in which the latter are framed and tackled at the local and national level.


High Education Institution Affirmative Action Educational Inequality Disadvantaged Student Widening Participation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Albouy, V., & Wanecq, T. (2003). Les inégalités sociales d’accès aux Grandes Ecoles. Economie et Statistique, 361, 27–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Allouch, A. (2013). L’ouverture sociale comme configuration éducative. Pratiques et processus de socialisation et de sélection des milieux populaires dans les établissements d’élite. Une comparaison France-Angleterre. Dissertation, Sciences Po.Google Scholar
  3. Archer, L. (2003). Social class and higher education. In L. Archer, M. Hutchings, & A. Ross (Eds.), Higher education and social class. Issues of exclusion and inclusion (pp. 5–20). Abingdon and New York: RoutledgeFalmer.Google Scholar
  4. Belhoste, B. (2002). L’anatomie d’un concours. L’organisation de l’examen d’admission à l’Ecole Polytechnique de la Révolution à nos jours. Histoire de l’éducation, 94, 2–27.Google Scholar
  5. Bénabou, R., Kramarz, F., & Prost, C. (2005). The French zones d’éducation prioritaire. Much ado about nothing? Economics of Education Review, 28(4), 345–356.Google Scholar
  6. Boltanski, L., & Chiapello, E. (1999). Le nouvel esprit du capitalisme. Paris: Gallimard. English edition: Boltanski, L., & Chiapello, E. (2007). The new spirit of capitalism (trans: Elliott, G.). New York: Verso.Google Scholar
  7. Bongrand, P. (2011). L’introduction controversée de l’“excellence” dans la politique française d’éducation prioritaire (1999–2005). Revue française de pédagogie, 177, 11–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bourdieu, P. (1972). Esquisse d’une théorie de la pratique. Genève: Droz. English edition: Bourdieu, P. Outline of a theory of practice (trans: Nice, R.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Bourdieu, P. (1984). Quelques propriétés des champs. In Bourdieu, P. Questions de sociologie. Paris: Minuit. English edition: Bourdieu, P. (1993). Some properties of fields. In Bourdieu, P. Sociology in Question (trans: Nice, R.) (pp. 72–77). London: Sage.Google Scholar
  10. Bourdieu, P. (1989). La noblesse d’Etat. Grandes écoles et esprit de corps. Paris: Minuit. English edition: Bourdieu, P. (1996). The state nobility (trans: Clough, L.). Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Bourdieu, P., & Passeron, J.-C. (1964). Les héritiers. Les étudiants et la culture. Paris: Minuit. English edition: Bourdieu, P., & Passeron, J.-C. (1979). The inheritors: French students and their relation to culture (trans: Nice, R.). Chicago: Chicago University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Bourdieu, P., & Saint-Martin, M. (1987). Agrégation et segregation. Le champ des grandes écoles et le champ du pouvoir. Actes de la Recherche en Sciences Sociales, 69(1), 2–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Bourdieu, P., & Wacquant, L. (1992). An invitation to reflexive sociology. Chicago: Chicago University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Brennan, J., & Naidoo, R. (2008). Higher education and the achievement (and/or prevention) of equity and social justice. Higher Education, 56(3), 287–302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Brinbaum, Y., & Guégnard, C. (2013). Choice and enrollments in French secondary and higher education: Repercussions for second-generation immigrants. Comparative Education Review, 57(3), 481–502.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Brown, G. (2012). The place of aspiration in UK widening participation policy: Moving up or moving beyond? In J. Norton, P. Kraftl, & F. Tucker (Eds.), Critical geographies of children and youth (pp. 97–113). Bristol: Policy Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. David, M. (2010). Introduction to the dilemmas of widening participation in higher education. In M. David et al. (Eds.), Improving learning by widening participation in higher education (pp. 3–27). Abingdon and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  18. DiMaggio, P. J., & Powell, W. W. (1983). The iron cage revisited. Institutional isomorphism and collective rationality in organizational fields. American Sociological Review, 48, 147–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Emirbayer, M., & Johnson, V. (2008). Bourdieu and organizational analysis. Theory and Society, 37, 1–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Espenshade, T. J., & Radford, A. W. (2009). No longer separate, not yet equal. Race and class in elite college admission and campus life. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Euriat, M., & Thélot, C. (1995). Le recrutement social de l’élite scolaire en France. Evolution des inégalités de 1950 à 1990. Revue Française de Sociologie, 36, 403–438.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Felouzis, G., Maroy, C., & van Zanten, A. (2013). Les marchés scolaires. Sociologie d’une politique publique d’éducation. Paris: PUF.Google Scholar
  23. Fligstein, N. (2001). Social skill and the theory of fields. Sociological Theory, 19(2), 105–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Fligstein, N., & McAdam, D. (2012). A theory of fields. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Gale, T., & Hodge, S. (2014). Just imaginary: Delimiting social inclusion in higher education. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 35(5), 688–709.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Gale, T., & Parker, S. (2014). Navigating change: A typology of student transition in higher education. Studies in Higher Education, 39(5), 734–753.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Giddens, A. (1972). Elites in the British class structure. Sociological Review, 20(3), 345–372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Grodsky, E. (2007). Compensatory sponsorship in higher education. American Journal of Sociology, 112(6), 1662–1712.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Gusfield, J. (1981). The culture of public problems: Drinking-driving and symbolic order. Chicago: Chicago University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Henriot-van Zanten, A. (1990). L’école et l’espace local. Lyon: PUL.Google Scholar
  31. Ichou, M., & van Zanten, A. (2014). France. In P. J. Stevens & G. A. Dworkin (Eds.), The Palgrave handbook of race and ethnic inequalities in education (pp. 328–364). London: Palgrave.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Jones, S. (2013). “Ensure that you stand out from the crowd”: A corpus-based analysis of personal statements according to applicants’ school type. Comparative Education Review, 57(3), 397–423.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Karabel, J. (2005). The chosen. The hidden history of admission and exclusion at Harvard, Yale and Princeton. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.Google Scholar
  34. King, R., Marginson, S., & Naidoo, R. (Eds.). (2013). The globalization of higher education. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.Google Scholar
  35. Kingston, P. W., & Lewis, L. L. (1990). The high-status track. Studies of elite schools and stratification. New York: SUNY.Google Scholar
  36. Lazuech, G. (1999). L’exception française. Le modèle des grandes écoles à l’épreuve de la mondialisation. Rennes: PUR.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Mame-Fatou, D., & Wasmer, E. (2016). Evaluating pre-market discrimination: The Conventions d’éducation prioritaire in Sciences Po. Paris: LIEPP.Google Scholar
  38. Merle, P. (2000). Le concept de démocratisation de l’institution scolaire: une typologie et sa mise à l’épreuve. Population, 55(1), 15–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Mountford-Zimdars, A., & Sabbagh, D. (2013). Fair access to higher education. Comparative Education Review, 57(3), 359–368.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Parry, G. (2010). Policy contexts: Differentiation, competition and policies for widening participation. In M. David et al. (Eds.), Improving Learning by Widening Participation in Higher Education (pp. 31–46). London and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  41. Pirone, P., & Rayou, P. (2012). Nouveaux internes, anciens décrocheurs: de l’évolution de la forme scolaire. Revue française de pédagogie, 179, 49–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Rothblatt, S. (2007) Education’s Abiding Moral Dilemma. Merit and worth in the cross-Atlantic democracies, 1800–2006. Oxford: Symbosium Books.Google Scholar
  43. Sabbagh, D. (2006). Une convergence problématique: les stratégies de légitimation de la “discrimination positive” dans l’enseignement supérieur aux États-Unis et en France. Politix, 1, 211–229.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Skrentny, J. D. (1996). The ironies of affirmative action. Politics, culture and justice in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  45. Solomon, L. (Ed.). (2002). The tools of government: A guide to the new governance. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  46. Soubiron, A. (2010). L’action publique expérimentale. Les dispositifs d’égalité de chances et de diversité dans les grandes écoles françaises. Dissertation, Université Paris Dauphine.Google Scholar
  47. St. Clair, R., & Benjamin, A. (2011). Performing desires: The dilemma of aspirations and educational attainment. British Educational Research Journal, 37(3), 501–517.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Strang, D., & Meyer, J. W. (1993). Institutional conditions for diffusion. Theory and Society, 22(4), 487–511.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Suleiman, E. (1978). Elites in French society: The politics of survival. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  50. Swartz, D. (1997). Culture and power. The sociology of Pierre Bourdieu. Chicago: Chicago University Press.Google Scholar
  51. Tilly, C., & Goodin, R. (2006). It depends. In R. Goodin & C. Tilly (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of contextual political analysis (pp. 3–32). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  52. Turner, R. H. (1960). Sponsored and contest mobility and the school system. American Sociological Review, 25(6), 855–867.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Sutton Trust. (2010). Widening access to selective universities. London: The Sutton Trust.Google Scholar
  54. van Zanten, A. (2009a). The sociology of elite education. In M. Apple, S. J. Ball, & L. A. Gandin (Eds.), International handbook of the sociology of education (pp. 329–339). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  55. van Zanten, A. (2009b). Choisir son école. Stratégies parentales et médiations locales. Paris: PUF.Google Scholar
  56. van Zanten, A. (2010). L’ouverture sociale des Grandes Ecoles. Diversification des élites ou renouveau des politiques éducatives? Sociétés Contemporaines, 79, 69–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. van Zanten, A. (2012). L’école de la périphérie. Scolarité et segregation en banlieue (2nd ed.). Paris: PUF.Google Scholar
  58. van Zanten, A. (2015). A family affair: Reproducing elite positions and preserving the ideal of meritocratic competition and youth autonomy. In A. van Zanten, S. J. Ball, & B. Darchy-Koechlin (Eds.), World yearbook of education 2015. Elites, privilege and excellence: The national and global redefinition of educational advantage (pp. 29–42). London and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  59. van Zanten, A. (2016). La fabrication familiale et scolaire des élites et les voies de mobilité ascendante en France. Année Sociologique, 66(1), 81–113.Google Scholar
  60. van Zanten, A., & Maxwell, C. (2015). Elite education and the state in France: Durable ties and new challenges. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 36(1), 71–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Wagner, A. C. (2012). La noblesse d’Etat et ses prolongements (pp. 169–192). In F. Lebaron & G. Mauger (Eds.), Lectures de Pierre Boudieu. Paris: Ellypse.Google Scholar
  62. Zucker, L. G. (1977). The role of institutionalization in cultural persistence. American Sociological Review, 42, 726–743.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Science PoParisFrance

Personalised recommendations