How institutional doxa shapes access to higher education through framings of ‘potential’

Rainford, Jon (2021). How institutional doxa shapes access to higher education through framings of ‘potential’. Power and Education, 13(3) pp. 171–186.



Access to higher education is a global concern due to its dual role in transforming individual lives and value for global economic systems. However, pre-entry interventions to improve access often make comparatively little impact on who attends certain types of universities. Drawing upon a study that examined policy and practice relating to access to higher education conducted in 2016–2017 in England, this article furthers a theoretical discussion relating to the role institutional norms play in maintaining this status quo and why inequities endure especially in elite universities. In doing so, it highlights how institutional doxa can illuminate how taken-for-granted ideals shape policy and practice. This article theorises that institutional doxa shapes notions of who is seen as having ‘potential’, examines why doxic positions in relation to ‘potential’ endure and are rarely impacted by practices. This theorisation offers an important contribution to research on access to higher education as by foregrounding the central role played by these assumptions within marketised higher education systems this enables them to be challenged and deconstructed in order to effect meaningful progress on issues of access to higher education.

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