Hidden Barriers to Higher Education

Claire Callender
NESET Report, Measures to combat educational disadvantage: A European consultation symposium, 2011

The topic of inequalities in higher education raises issues that are specific to the HE sector. First, the HE system is characterised and underpinned by a contradiction. One the one hand HE reasserts elitism and social divisions, on the other, it aims to be transformative in terms of widening participation and social mobility. Thus HE raises a potential conflict between the pursuit of excellence, including selectivity, and the desire for greater equality of opportunity and outcome. Within HE efficiency and equity may be contradictory rather than complementary. It is also recognised that a key factor influencing unequal opportunities in access to HE lies outside the HE sector, and can largely be explained by differences in school/academic attainment which in turn are related to prospective students’ socioeconomic background.