Facts not fiction will aid access 1

January 28, 2005

The troubling findings of the Higher Education Funding Council for England's report, which shows that initiatives aimed at widening access for certain social groups are having little effect, should not surprise us ( Access: Widening Participation in Higher Education , January 21).

The debate has raged for some time, yet the response from policymakers is largely concerned with breaking down the perceived socio-structural barriers encountered by people from groups with low participation.

Although these are important, we believe that one crucial factor is being neglected - Pierre Bourdieu's notion of habitus or one's disposition to education. There has been much sound scholarship in this area by eminent sociologists, yet it has been neglected by those outside the discipline.

Our research among Welsh communities indicates that what could be termed an "aspirational habitus " towards education is needed if people from disadvantaged social groups are to access higher education. Without this, "add-on" government initiatives will fail to widen participation among certain disadvantaged groups. We hope that in the face of the worrying findings of the funding council report, more attention will be paid by policymakers to issues of culture and identity.

John Fazey, Sally Baker and Brec'Hed Piette
University of Wales, Bangor

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