Fair access and fee setting in English universities: what do institutional statements suggest about university strategies in a stratified quasi-market?

Bowl, Marion and Hughes, Jonathan (2016). Fair access and fee setting in English universities: what do institutional statements suggest about university strategies in a stratified quasi-market? Studies in Higher Education, 41(2) pp. 269–287.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2014.927846

Abstract

This paper explores how English universities operating in a ‘quasi-market’ are managing the tension between two policy expectations: the first that they should encourage social mobility by widening the social base of their student population; the second that they should compete with other universities to attract students and thereby remain financially viable, within the context of a stratified higher education system. In doing so we draw on widening participation access agreements submitted to the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) and other publicly available material produced by eight universities in one region of England to analyse how universities from different mission groups are responding to these conflicting demands. We explore the extent to which institutional and resource dependency theories offer a framework for analysing universities’ responses to such policy uncertainty. We conclude that while institutional and resource
dependency theories are a useful tool to understanding both conformity and variation in universities’ responses, these responses are difficult to predict without also analysing the specifics of the historical and cultural context of any particular institution.

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