Access and Participation in Tertiary Education: A study of students from low decile schools attending the University of Canterbury.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
The findings in this thesis represent research that was undertaken at the University of Canterbury on the topic of participation in tertiary education by students from low decile backgrounds. This work focuses on students from low decile backgrounds participating in university education. In addition to a review of the relevant literature and policies, interviews were conducted with 13 students who were enrolled at the University at the time of the interview, one University staff member employed in a position responsible for fostering greater participation by students at four low decile schools in Christchurch, and interviews with three career staff at the low decile schools in Christchurch. The focus was placed on low decile students due to the use of school decile as a proxy for social class due to the difficulty of sorting participants by social class. The interviews were conducted during 2005 and 2006, while enrolment statistics were gathered from the University of Canterbury and the Ministry of Education for the period of 1999 to 2004. This information is represented in the study to help highlight the inequalities in participation rates based on students attending different decile schools. The interviews in particular identified themes in the experiences of the students when they were talking about their decision to attend university and their school life. The literature review as well as the use of Bourdieu's theory regarding the influence of social, cultural and economic capital was important in the development of this work. The thesis uses the theory and literature as a starting point, and a reference point that locates it within the field of sociology and education. In particular Nash's work in the New Zealand context offers useful connections between his findings and this current work while also providing at times mediation between the theory of Bourdieu and the findings in the research. This research has found a number of areas where students had very similar experiences and these are reflected in the four findings chapters of policy, schools and career teachers, family and peer groups. There is a clear understanding by students and staff alike about educational outcomes, and the commonly accepted outcome of class based inequalities in education. The implications of the findings in this study broadly include concerns over the way participation is counted, access to financial assistance while studying, and the quality of advice being given by career teachers. There remain also ongoing concerns about the impact that culture and class have on the decisions made by individuals. Out of the findings of the research a number of recommendations for future study were generated. It is hoped these will encourage further work in the area of participation in education, particularly in regard to the policy areas of the way student enrolments are counted, the government financial assistance that is offered, and the approach of schools towards careers education. The final aim of any further work however should be to move the field of education research closer towards finding a way to equalise the participation rates between the different social classes.