Gaining More Than Just Vocational Skills: Evaluating Women Learners’ Aspirations Through the Capability Approach

  • Rebecca SuartEmail author
Reference work entry


Vocational education and training had been a popular choice for women learners in the English Further Education sector. However, policy makers and policy researchers have characterized these women learners as providing a poor return on investment due to their failure to enter immediate employment. As a result, there have been significant cuts to funding. Such policy processes have not engaged with why these women returned to education and what they stood to gain from participation. This major absence is the focus of this chapter. Framed using a capabilities approach, women learners were asked why they had returned to FE and how they were going to use their knowledge and training. Using capabilities as a lens reveals a nuanced and complex picture of how education helps them to expand their well-being, agency, and freedom achievement.


Women learners Capabilities approach Aspirations VET Further Education 



This work was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (UK) [grant number 151171].


  1. Abbas A, Ashwin P, McLean M (2013) Qualitative life-grids: a proposed method for comparative European educational research. Eur Educ Res J 12(3):320–329CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alkire S (2002) Valuing freedoms: Sen’s capability approach and poverty reduction. Oxford University Press, OxfordCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Appadurai A (2004) The capacity to aspire. In: Rao V, Walton M (eds) Culture and public action. Stanford University Press, Stanford, pp 59–84Google Scholar
  4. Biesta G, Field J, Hodkinson P, Macleod F, Goodson I (2011) Improving learning through the lifecourse: learning lives. Routledge, LondonCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Blanden J, Buscha F, Sturgis P, Unwin P (2012) Measuring the earnings returns to lifelong learning in the Uk. Econ Educ Rev 31:501–514CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brine J, Waller R (2004) Working-class women on an access course: risk, opportunity and reconstructing identities. Gend Educ 16(1):97–113CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Daniels J (2010) Women learners and their virtual handbags: invisible experiences and everyday contexts in vocational education. Int J Lifelong Educ 29(1):77–91CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. DeJaeghere J (2016) Girls’ educational aspirations and agency: imagining alternative futures through schooling in a low-resourced Tanzanian communitty. Crit Stud Educ 59(2):1–19CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Donath S (2000) The other economy: a suggestion for a distinctly feminist economics. Fem Econ 6(1):115–123CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Duckworth V (2014) Learning trajectories, violence and empowerment amongst adult basic skills learners. Routledge, AbingdonGoogle Scholar
  11. Gouthro PA (2005) A critical feminist analysis of the homeplace as a learning site: expainding the discourse of lifelong learning to consider adult women learners. Int J Lifelong Educ 26(2):143–154CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Harding S (1998) Feminism and methodology. Indiana University Press, BloomingtonGoogle Scholar
  13. Hart C (2012) Aspirations, education and social justice: applying Sen and Bourdieu. Bloomsbury, LondonGoogle Scholar
  14. Hart C (2016) How do aspirations matter. J Hum Dev Capabil 17(3):324–341CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Jenkins A (2006) Women, lifelong learning and transitions into employment. Work Employ Soc 20(2):309–328CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Jenkins A, Vignoles A, Wolf A, Calindo-Rueda F (2003) The determinants and labour market effects of lifelong learning. Appl Econ 35(16):1711–1721CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Lopez-Fogues A (2012) Theorising further education through a capability lens: vulnerability and freedoms. Jubilee Press working papers, University of Nottingham, NottinghamGoogle Scholar
  18. Lopez-Fogues A (2016) A social justice alternative for framing post compulsory education: a human development perspective in times of economic dominance. J Vocat Educ Train 68(2):161–177CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. McGrath S, Powell L (2015) Vocational education and training for human development. In: McGrath S, Gu Q (eds) Handbook on international education and development. Routledge, LondonGoogle Scholar
  20. Merrill B (2000) The FE college and its communities. FEDA, LondonGoogle Scholar
  21. Merrill B (2005) Dialogical feminism: other women and the challenge of adult education. Int J Lifelong Educ 24(1):41–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Nussbaum M (2000) Woman and human development: the capabilities approach. Cambridge University Press, New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Nussbaum MC (2011) Creating capabilities: the human develoopment approach. Harvard University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Parr J (1996) Education: what’s in it for mature women? An analysis of the experiences of mature women returners to education, Doctoral thesesGoogle Scholar
  25. Parr J (2000) Identity and education: the links for mature women students. Ashgate, FarnhamGoogle Scholar
  26. Powell L (2012) Reimagining the purpose of VET – expanding the capability to aspire in South African Further Education and Training students. Int J Educ Dev 32(5):1–32CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Powell L (2014) Reimagining the purpose of vocational education and training the perspectives of further education and training college students in South Africa, Doctoral thesesGoogle Scholar
  28. Psacharopoulos G (1987) To vocationalize or not to vocationalize? That is the curriculum question. Int Rev Educ 33(2):187–211CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Reay D, Ball S, David M (2002) It’s taking me a long time but I’ll get there in the end: mature students on access courses and higher education choice. Br Educ Res J 28(1):5–19CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Reinhartz S (1992) Feminist methods in social research. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  31. Robeyns I (2005) The capability approach: a theoretical survey. J Hum Dev 6(1):93–114CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Sen A (1999) Development as freedom. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  33. Sen A (2005) Human rights and capabilities. J Hum Dev 6(2):151–166CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Skills Funding Agency (2012) Equality and diversity data report. Skills Funding Agency, LondonGoogle Scholar
  35. Smith DE (1987) The everyday world as problematic: a feminist sociology, 1st edn. Open University Press, Milton KeynesGoogle Scholar
  36. Tikly L (2012) Receonceptualising TVET and development: towards a capabilities and social justice approach. UNESCO, ParisGoogle Scholar
  37. Unterhalter E (2007) Gender, schooling and global social justice. Routledge, LondonGoogle Scholar
  38. Unterhalter E (2012) Inequality, capabilities and poverty in four African countries: girls’ voice, schooling and strategies for institutional change. Camb J Educ 42(3):307–325CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Walker M (2003) Framing social justice in education: what does the “capabilities” approach offer. Br Educ Res J 51(2):168–187Google Scholar
  40. Waller R (2010) Changing identities through re-engagement with education: narrative accounts from two women learners. In: Bathmaker A-M, Harnett P (eds) Exploring learning, identity and power through life history and narrative research. Routledge, London, pp 55–69Google Scholar
  41. West L (1996) Beyond fragments: adults, motivation, and higher education: a biographical analysis. Routledge, AbingdonGoogle Scholar
  42. Wright H (2013) In search of stability: women studying childcare in an English further education college. J Furth High Educ 371(1):89–108CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Education, University of NottinghamNottinghamUK

Section editors and affiliations

  • Lesley Powell
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of EducationNelson Mandela Metropolitan UniversityPort ElizabethSouth Africa

Personalised recommendations