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Equity, markets and the politics of aspiration in Australian higher education

By Sam Sellar


This paper provides a critical discussion of contemporary policy agendas to raise aspirations for university study among students from low socio-economic status (SES) backgrounds. It traces the politics of aspiration from the working class \u27poverty of desire\u27 thesis propounded by British socialists at the turn of the twentieth century to recent concerns about the educational aspirations of low SES groups. These concerns are manifest in the current aspiration-raising agenda in Australian higher education, which aims to realise equity objectives by cultivating market-rational behaviour and dispositions to maximise self-investment in human capital. However, changes in contemporary global education and labour markets present significant obstacles to the \u27good life\u27 promises made by advocates of human capital theory, and even when these promises are realised, deficit constructions of aspirations persist. The paper identifies a tension in aspiration-raising logics between (1) human capital promises of economic rewards for enterprising behaviour and (2) the policing of aspirations and associated behaviours according to dominant social values

Topics: Aspirations, Education policy, Equity, Higher education, Human capital, Marketisation, 3301 Social Sciences (miscellaneous), 3304 Education, 3310 Linguistics and Language
Publisher: Routledge
Year: 2013
DOI identifier: 10.1080/01596306.2013.770250
OAI identifier:

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