Higher Education and Social Inclusion: Continuing Inequalities in Access to Higher Education in England

  • Philip WoodwardEmail author
Living reference work entry


Higher education (HE) is a global phenomenon that attracts millions of students worldwide. It has expanded on an enormous scale in the last few decades and continues to grow. This phenomenon is replicated in England and what used to be a system for a privileged elite is now available for considerably more students from a broad range of social groups. While these changes mark considerable progress in terms of access, they have not removed a range of inequalities for different social groups and in particular those from the working class. The significant increases in participation that have been seen in the last 70 years have disproportionately advantaged middle-class students. Working-class students remain less likely to attend, in particular if they are from the poorest sections of society. When working-class students do participate, they are also less likely to attend the most selective and elite institutions. While this situation can be partly explained in terms of inequalities in compulsory education that prevent or restrict access, this does not give the full picture. Working-class applicants appear to be less likely to apply to elite universities and when they do they appear to be discriminated against in the application process. It can be suggested that those from the working class do not have the same access to resources to enable equitable choices but also that those from the middle class actively engage in activities to advantage their market position. Simultaneously, it appears that the process of applying to university, in an English context, is discriminatory.


Working-class students Inequality Elite universities University choice 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of EducationUniversity of WorcesterWorcesterUK

Section editors and affiliations

  • David John Matheson
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of Health, Education and Well-beingUniversity of WolverhamptonWalsallUK

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