Retaining students in Australian higher education: cultural capital and field distinction

Gale, T. and Parker, S. (2017) Retaining students in Australian higher education: cultural capital and field distinction. European Educational Research Journal, 16(1), pp. 80-96. (doi: 10.1177/1474904116678004)

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In the global phenomenon of widening participation policy in higher education, lower retention rates for students from less advantaged socioeconomic circumstances have potential to undermine its social inclusion agenda. This might be an issue in Europe but is not necessarily the case elsewhere. In this paper we consider statistical data on Australian university students from under-represented groups, retained at similar rates as their more advantaged peers. Our data also include print and online media commentary on student retention. In our analysis we draw on Bourdieu’s social theory, particularly his conceptual tools of ‘cultural capital’ and field ‘distinction’. We argue that less advantaged Australian university students appear to have greater access to the cultural capital privileged in higher education institutions. This tends to undermine claims of retention problems and of ‘setting up students to fail’, which dominate quasi-policy media forums and have more to do with mitigating a perceived threat to the distinctive character of higher education. Following Wilkinson and Pickett’s (2009) observations on the distribution of economic capital within societies, we suggest that the more even the distribution of cultural capital across systems, institutions and groups, the less students’ socioeconomic status has to do with their retention in higher education.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Gale, Professor Trevor and Parker, Stephen
Authors: Gale, T., and Parker, S.
Subjects:H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB2300 Higher Education
College/School:College of Social Sciences > School of Education
Journal Name:European Educational Research Journal
Publisher:SAGE Publications
ISSN (Online):1474-9041
Published Online:21 November 2016
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2016 The Authors
First Published:First published in European Educational Research Journal 2016
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons License

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