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Disadvantaged Student Retention in Australian Higher Education: Crisis or Conflicting Capitals?

By Trevor Gale and Stephen Parker


Australia differs from European nations in the retention of higher education students from disadvantaged groups. Over the last two decades, the data show that students from disadvantaged groups in Australian higher education are retained at about the same rate as their advantaged peers. Two questions arise from this: ·         Why is student retention in higher education not the problem that it is in Europe, particularly in a global context of comparatively low retention rates for students from disadvantaged groups? ·         Why is there a degree of ‘moral panic’ by commentators on Australian higher education about retention rates for students from disadvantaged backgrounds? Guided by these two research questions, this paper reports on a statistical analysis of publicly available government data and a qualitative analysis of print media reports on student retention, which challenge the popular idea that students from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to discontinue their studies and examine why this view is consistently evoked in the popular press. Findings from the data are interpreted through the theoretical lens of Pierre Bourdieu, particularly his concepts of capital and distinction. The paper concludes that disadvantaged students’ cultural capital is not as different to their mainstream peers as it is in Europe, and increased access to higher education poses a perceived threat to distinctions in the field

Topics: L1, LB2300
Year: 2014
OAI identifier:
Provided by: Enlighten
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