An examination into the attitudes of staff in Higher Education towards widening participation
The expansion of Higher Education has a long history, however, the specific policy of widening participating in Higher Education to those who would not normally enter Higher Education, and in particular those from lower socio-economic groups, was emphasised by Dearing in his 1997 report. The policy and its implementation have produced much literature but little of this studies the perceptions of and responses to this policy This study does precisely that and seeks to determine the attitudes of a range of staff in Higher Education, not just academics, to the widening participation policy as it has been articulated since 1997. The study took an ethnographic methodology and focused on one group of staff within a post-1992 English university. Through an analysis of the related literature a number of themes surrounding the widening participation agenda were established. A combination of focus group, interviews, participant observation and documentary analysis were used to collect data which was subsequently analysed to determine themes arising. These themes were then compared to those that were derived from the literature review. Hence the hypotheses presented were developed from the data analysis. It is concluded that gap exists between the expectations of staff in Higher Education, particularly academics, and current Higher Education students, not necessarily from widening participation backgrounds. This gap takes a number of forms including differences in belief regarding the purpose and value of Higher Education. Taking Bourdieu’s theory on habitus and cultural capital, a hypothesis is presented which explains many of the issues emerging from the data analysis in terms of a gap in the habitus and educational capital between academics and current students.