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

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journal contribution
posted on 2017-01-01, 00:00 authored by Trevor Gale, S Parker
In the global phenomenon of widening participation policy in higher education, lower retention rates for students from less advantaged socio-economic circumstances have potential to undermine the social inclusion agenda of HE. 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 to those of 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 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’ socio-economic status has to do with their retention in higher education.

History

Journal

European educational research journal

Volume

16

Issue

1

Pagination

80 - 96

Publisher

SAGE Publications

Location

London, Eng.

ISSN

1474-9041

eISSN

1474-9041

Language

eng

Publication classification

C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Copyright notice

2016, The Author(s)