Drawing on Archer’s perspectives on the agency / structure relationship, this paper explains situations where students in varied, challenging circumstances find ways to negotiate difficult conditions. The paper firstly reports specific findings of a study on student access and use of technology in three universities in South Africa; and then uses Archer’s concept of agency to explain the findings. The context of the study is a South African higher education system clearly committed to preparing university students for participation in the knowledge society as is evident in numerous policy documents. However, the response to this rapid worldwide social and economic transformation has occurred simultaneously with the substantial restructuring of a fragmented, divided and unequal sector, the legacy of racially demarcated and differentially resourced apartheid institutions (Department of Education, 2001, Gillard, 2004). Additionally, social demands on South African higher education institutions have intensified in recent years. Increased participation by a diverse range of students has resulted in massification of the sector within a context of limited or even reduced funding (Maasen and Cloete, 2002). As is the case internationally, there are both more and different students entering the sector
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