Access to and Experiences of Higher Education Across Europe: The Impact of Social Characteristics

Rachel Brooks, Jessie Abrahams, Predrag Lazetic, Achala Gupta, Sazana Jayadeva

Research output: Chapter or section in a book/report/conference proceedingChapter in a published conference proceeding

2 Citations (SciVal)


Policymakers across Europe have increasingly emphasised the importance of paying close attention to the social dimension of higher education and taking further steps to ensure that the composition of Europe’s universities more adequately reflects the diversity of the wider population. While there have been a number of studies that have explored this through analyses of European- and national-level policy and others that have assessed a range of quantitative indicators related to student diversity, this chapter assumes, in contrast, an interpretivist stance; it is interested in the perspectives of those studying and working ‘on the ground’ within the European Higher Education Area. Specifically, we seek to answer this research question: To what extent do students and staff, across Europe, believe that higher education access and experiences are differentiated by social characteristics (such as class/family background, race/ethnicity/migration background, gender and age)? In doing so, we draw on data from a large European Research Council-funded project, including 54 focus groups with undergraduate students (a total of 295 individuals) and 72 in-depth individual interviews with members of higher education staff (both academic and non-academic). Fieldwork was conducted in three higher education institutions in each of the following countries: Denmark, UK-England, Germany, Ireland, Poland and Spain—nations chosen to provide diversity with respect to welfare regime, relationship to the European Union and mechanisms for funding higher education. We explore commonalities and differences between staff and students and between different countries, before identifying some implications for policymakers keen to promote further social inclusion within Europe’s higher education institutions (HEIs).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEuropean Higher Education Area: Challenges for a New Decade
EditorsAdrian Curaj, Remus Procopie, Ligia Deca
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-030-56316-5
ISBN (Print)978-3-030-56315-8
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2020


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