Rationing (higher) education : a mixed methods study of economic, cultural and institutional factors in progression from further to higher education in England
Theories involving the metaphor of 'capital' in both the economics and sociology of education are frequently used to explain progression to Higher Education (HE). However, in employing these theories there is often a lack of consideration given to the role of educational institutions, such as Further Education (FE) colleges. In particular, FE colleges may have their own objectives that impinge upon student progression. Following Gillborn and Youdell's (2000) work on schools, they ration access to HE. Through a mixed methods approach employing multivariate analysis, interview and ethnography it is shown that the ways in which FE colleges ration access to academic courses is vital in understanding educational progression. Considerations of capital are important, but there are limitations to how far they provide a complete explanation of progression. Although human capital considerations partly explain the intention to attend HE they are found not to predict actual attendance nor are they explicit in students' own accounts of their decision making. Similarly, cultural and social capital are important, but limited when faced with the countervailing demands of FE colleges. Indeed, through rationing, what may appear to depend upon one's individual or community characteristics, such as human or social capital are ascribed value within institutions. For example, there have been recent concerns with the academic potential and community cohesion of white, working class communities. Through ethnographic analysis it is shown how this manifests itself in one FE site in tenns of the students in the study being particularly pathologised as 'white trash'. This has particular consequences for their progression to HE. Because institutions, particularly FE colleges, have a key role in rationing opportunity and classifying students they are a key site in the 'widening participation' debate. According to my research, to 'widen participation' in its fullest sense, those who work in FE will need to take actions which would lead to institutional change across the sector.