A new book claims that the only way to increase the proportion of students from non-traditional backgrounds is to tackle the elitist structures still lingering in universities, writes Alison Utley.
Liz Thomas, director of the Institute for Access Studies at Staffordshire University and co-editor of the book, said that if higher education is to provide a route out of social exclusion, universities must change radically.
"Social inclusion is not just a matter of general principles and strategies. Special measures are needed," she said. "Proposing policies and initiatives without challenging a narrow framework of learning is self-defeating, perpetuating a form of education to serve the needs of an economy, which is iniquitous."
Staff in universities are still predominantly white males, she said, with few role models for ethnic minority students. Admissions policies are dominated by A-level scores, which discriminate against non-traditional students.
"The UK government and other European governments expect education to contribute to creating routes from exclusion to inclusion. If higher education in particular is to do this, elitist structures must be challenged and the non-economic returns to education must be taken into account."
Changing the Culture of the Campus: Towards an Inclusive Higher Education, edited by Liz Thomas and Michael Cooper, Staffordshire University Press with the European Access Initiative, ISBN 1 897898 65 7.