Are we still “raising aspirations”? The complex relationship between aspiration and widening participation practices in English higher education institutions

Rainford, Jon (2021). Are we still “raising aspirations”? The complex relationship between aspiration and widening participation practices in English higher education institutions. Educational Review (Early Access).

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/00131911.2021.1923461

Abstract

Widening participation in England has been framed around two primary needs; raising attainment and raising aspiration. Whilst aspiration is complex, policy definitions often frame it in narrow economic terms and see access to higher education as primarily about developing a workforce, the underlying logic being that to improve social mobility that individuals need to “aim higher”. Pre-entry work with under-represented groups therefore has tended to adopt a deficit of aspiration approach. There has been extensive critique of the deficit model yet “raising aspirations” still endures in both national and institutional policy. Drawing on sixteen semi-structured interviews with widening participation practitioners in England, this paper considers the alignment between policy and practice. It explores the more complex and nuanced view of aspiration held by practitioners and how this more closely aligns with the theory of possible selves. This paper argues that there are two key issues; a disjuncture between policy and practice and a gap in understanding of the structural issues associated with aspiration. The paper argues that the solution involves a radical rethink of policy that returns to a focus on helping individuals to realise their own individual aspirations and more clearly acknowledges the structural constraints shaping the formation, vocalisation and realisation of aspirations.

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About

  • Item ORO ID
  • 76454
  • Item Type
  • Journal Item
  • ISSN
  • 1465-3397
  • Keywords
  • Widening participation; higher education; access to education; raising aspiration; possible selves
  • Academic Unit or School
  • Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies (WELS)
  • Copyright Holders
  • © 2021 Educational Review
  • Depositing User
  • Jon Rainford

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