Tune in to dropouts 2

July 15, 2005

Explanations for high dropout rates among working-class students often blame institutional attitudes and processes for the problem, as in the research by Jocey Quinn ("Project lifts the hood on male dropouts", July 1). It is less common to hear that at least some of the explanation might lie with the students' social background.

In our separate research on working-class students who succeed in higher education, Sally Baker of the University of Wales, Bangor, and I found that some, against all odds, do take to university life like the proverbial duck to water. Schools, colleges and universities must do more to widen participation, but it seems unlikely that we will progress unless we are prepared to consider issues relating to students' backgrounds.

There are no quick fixes. SureStart initiatives will take at least a generation to have any impact. There is also widespread ideological resistance to "victim-blaming", which restricts research into other explanations for failure, especially if they hypothesise genetic or cultural inequalities. Explanations that consider that socio-structural inequalities lie at the heart of the problem have such profound implications for the reordering of society that they lie beyond the pale as far as policymakers are concerned. No wonder universities continue to get the blame.

Yanina Sheeran
Bradford University

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