University admissions policies are creating divisions between "standard" and "non-standard" students, according to research published today. It claims that widening participation policies are deepening social inequalities, writes Alison Utley.
The research finds that the practice of defining students as traditional or non-traditional depending on their gender, race or class - as well as their type of qualification - makes the "abnormal" student feel inferior.
"Students are identified as deserving or undeserving, legitimate or illegitimate, in terms of these categories," says the research by Penny J. Burke, of the Institute of Education. "Access students adopt these categories themselves as they become familiar to them."
Dr Burke analysed the experiences of 23 access students and found an overwhelming dissatisfaction with the need to conform to an "alien" academic environment.
"The emphasis on standardisation meant they felt all the time they had to fit in to what was on offer which made the whole experience very exclusive," she says.
"Rather than be noticed, the students would rather be invisible. They feared comparison with their middle-class classmates."
The process of widening participation was becoming contradictory, according to Dr Burke. She says: "Although access education seeks to empower marginalised groups, it often repositions students as inferior and exacerbates their feelings of anxiety. The participants regularly revealed that educational experiences were characterised by intimidation and fear."
Accessing Education by Penny J. Burke ISBN 1 85856 255 4