This essay aims to analyse the challenges that students fromdisadvantages backgrounds face in their university experience. This segmentwill explain the structure of this essay. Section1.
1, which will concisely introduce the topic. Section 2 is split into 4 sectors consisting of financial barriersaffecting circumstances, academic performance, retention rates and socialintegration. Section 3 will look at lack of support from family and friends Section4 will explore the lack of knowledge of support services. Finally, Section 5will conclude on the challenges that students face.Kennedy (1997) Defines Widening Participation as “increasing access tolearning and providing opportunities for success and progression to a muchwider cross-section of the population than now” (Kennedy, 1997 cited inBeckley, 2014, p. 2).
Widening participation (WP) aims to target students fromdisadvantaged backgrounds. Disadvantaged students consist of the ethnicminority, those with disabilities, immigrants, and young people leaving care.Alongside first generation students, low-income and low-participatingneighbourhoods. Those students coming from these backgrounds are identified asdisadvantages as they are under-represented in society. Theunder-representation of these groups is not only unjust towards the individualbut also a dominant cause to skills shortages which impede on the economy’sgrowth (HEFCE, 2013). Today, more than one in three adults possess a university degreecompared to one in 10 adults during mid 60s (Alexander and Arday, 2015 andDavid, 2009). However there are still numerous disadvantaged students who arestill not participating in Higher education (HE).
Higher education, is allstudies above A-level including foundation, undergraduate and postgraduatedegrees (NAO, 2002). HE brings many benefits to society such as improved socialcohesion, social mobility, social capital, political stability, economicgrowth, higher earnings and lessened crime rates (BIS, 2013). Yet today numerous multi-faceted challenges remain for learnersaccessing or partaking higher education. These consist of; socio-economic,cultural, geographical and psychosocial barriers including finance, socialstatus, social class, inequality, entry requirements, academic barriers andeducational attainment. Nonetheless this essay will focus on four key challengesof finance, motivation, lack of family support and lack of awareness of supportservices. Firstly, one of thekey challenges that students from disadvantages backgrounds face in theiruniversity experience is financial worries which may arise at the start,throughout or the end of study (Davies and Elias, 2002) and has been noted as acitied cause for students discontinuing education (Bourn, 2002; Budlender etal, 2002; NAO, 2007). Thereby a possible explanation for low retention ratesfor disadvantaged students.
Surrounding factors that include; academicexpenses, living expenditures, tuition fees, commuting, equipment and childcarecosts (Scottish Government, 2009b). Individualsespecially from poorer socio-economic backgrounds face increaser difficultiesthan traditional students (Vignoles, 2016). This is supported by Archer et al.,(2002) who claims that students face higher costs and economic difficulties bypartaking in HE than their working class counterparts. Bourdieu (1986) theoryof economic capital ties in well with the financial difficulties students faceespecially from socio-economic backgrounds as their parent’s economic capital reflectson their education and location. Many students due to parent’s economic capitalbenefit from when they are at a school age giving them that extra support toaccess and better their attainment as their parents are able to pay for privatetuition etc.
this is not the case for disadvantaged students. Middle class aremore likely to access and afford education however the working class will struggle and this is especiallydifficult for those living in areas where no universities is available i.e.South-West Devon. Nevertheless, witheconomic capital you can move out or access other universities as well astravel further as you have the capital to be able to afford the cost. parents capital arguably shapes your future asif you have (economic capital) and can access better education then you would morelikely to choose better rated domains rather than what is available on yourdoorstep however this is not the case for all especially the disadvantaged studentsbecause of the financial implications this can cause them and their families(Bourdieu and Passerson, 1979).
Thereforeit can be argued that without economic capital disadvantaged students are morelikely to struggle as it creates further barriers for them. Including if a studentsis not able to afford equipment they will not adequately be able to producework to their best ability which may affect their overall grade. Financial difficultycan cause concerns which may stem to further social, personal and economicchallenges for students (Cooke et al., 2004; Brennan et al., 2005).
Studentsare more likely to prioritise their needs especially surrounding their basicneeds. This is similar to Maslow hierarchy of needs theory where he states thatonly once the basic needs are met, other levels (needs) are looked at thisapplies to disadvantaged students as if they are struggling financially withrent, food and bills they are more likely to leave education and work to fillthese needs rather than seek higher levels of needs by carrying on with theireducation (Maslow, 2013). Due to circumstances, students may have to undergoemployment thereby affecting their academic performance alongside theiruniversity experience (Callender, 2008; Hunt et al., 2004). This is because asthe cost of living is ascending, tuition fees have risen, grants and loans aresimply not enough to see students through their course of study.
Subsequently, studentswill inevitably see the difference their employment has on their academicgrades, thus effecting their motivation. This suggest that employment itself isanother challenge that students face in their university experience, this doesnot include any stress or difficulties that they may have at work i.e. workload which also could impact their ability to study. Employment can be astressful for any individual and having other workloads like studying can be ahandful (Dundes and Marx 2006). Evidencesuggests that due to heavy load of responsibilities, pupils are not able toperform to their best potential as a result of working i.e. looking after afamily (Metcalf, 2001;Callender and Wilkinson, 2003; Pennell, 2005).
Arguably, financialpressures can lead to further difficulties such as students’ academicperformance but it can affect a student integration within the universitysphere, integration with peers and tutors, and may also impact retention rates.Besides financial hardships captivate a student’s time and energy affecting individualsby decreasing their academic achievement, social integrations and increasingtheir feelings of alienation and isolation (Bourn, 2002). An additional challengethat disadvantaged students may face in their university experience is thelimited support and encouragement from family and friends and if not receivedstudents were less likely to continue their education (Bartels, 1982).Disadvantaged students are more likely to struggle especially if they are thefirst in the family to access HE.
This is because traditional students areprone to have acquaintance including parents or siblings who have studied andexperienced the university dimension. Therefore they will be better preparedthan their counterparts in many ways including knowing what support isavailable, how to access it etc. (Bowl, 2001). This is not the case for thedisadvantaged students who are more likely not having any associate who havepreviously experienced university life. These students are less likely to knowabout support, advice and guidance that is available to them (Bowl, 2001).Whena student faces discertanity whilst studying either through personal, academicor institutional factors they are more likely to turn to their acquaintancesthan speak to someone from the university domain.
Not only can parent’sencouragement be a barrier for student but also the lack of parentalfamiliarity in education can result to lack of support and encouragement fromthe household domain (Stratton, 2007; Gayle et al., 2002). They are more likelyto discourage a student from carrying on with their studies. One can assumethat there is strength to Dyhouse, (2002) claim of a “Multiplier effect” to HE,meaning that if one person of an extended family attends and has had a pleasantexperience they are most likely to advocate HE to family and friends.
Researchalso implies that the extent of parental education, the more likelihood thatstudents will accomplish in their study (Martinez, 2009). This indicates thatUniversities in order to widen participation further ought to do more to ensurethat first timers have a pleasant experience.As they will mostlikely to promote HE especially to their children who then breaks the traditionof first in the family to encounter HE. Accordingly, students when undergoingcertain difficulties may not feel they are inadequately supported both at homeand at university, hence may decide to retract their studies rather thandiscuss their concerns. Lack of support from family and friends createschallenges for disadvantaged students by impacting an individual’s motivation,achievement leading to a negative experience at university.A further challengethat disadvantaged students may face is lack of knowledge of services andsupport that is available to them.
This potentially may hinder them in manyways including their attainment and retention progression. When students arefacing difficulties they are more likely to face distress as they cannot findsolutions thereby the lack of awareness of services is arguably anotherchallenge that student are facing (Hunt and Eisenburg, 2010). Traditionalstudents are more likely to be aware of available support as they have parentsor siblings who have had a degree so they have an advantage compared tonon-traditional students. As a result it can be argued that disadvantagedstudents are facing inequality of resources being distributed. Bourdieu (1994)outlines four species of capital which interlink habitus these include;cultural, social, symbolic and economic cultural.
Class determines culturalcapital and through habitus and fields your environment is constructed, wherehabitus would be a central field which are social spaces that dominate groupswithin society inhibiting a form of power and therefore produces power capitalin order for the system to work.Bourdieu argues,middle class due to their ‘cultural capital’ either through an individual’sknowledge, parent’s academic background or connection may have an upper-handthan the working class. Therefore Cultural capital is not equally circulatedthrough class structure hence accounting for class disparities and inequalitiesin educational attainment (Bourdieu, 1984). Upper-class backgrounds haveadvantages of being socialised in dominant cultures as groups can convert theircapital to gain better standing in society, for example an individual can gainacademic qualification and change their cultural capital to economic capital.
He identified habitus as a physical state in which capital is collocated in anindividual. Non-traditional students are less likely to have gained fromadvantaged networks of social and cultural capital, including those who provideinformal advice surrounding learning through family and friend associates andintergeneration HE participation (Hinton-Smith, 2012).If disadvantagedstudents are unaware of the available support and services and how to accessthem they are more likely to struggle emotionally and academically, becomede-motivated, and inevitably impacting on their academic progression, theirconfidence and motivation levels (REAP). Student support services includewellbeing services, academic writing support, counselling services, mentoring.
Agreeing with Davies(2013) and Slack (2012) it can be argued that support and guidance is availablehowever not targeting disadvantagedstudents and by doing this there is morelikelihood that it would improve retention rates. Studies show thatunder-represented students were less likely to access student support services,however when that were accessed it bettered student outcomes drastically(Naylor et al., 2013; Zepke and Leach, 2005).Another challengedisadvantaged student’s face is lack of social and academic integration.Non-traditional students have felt ‘disorientated’, ‘frightened’ and’apprehensive’ on their initial experience of university (Hinton-Smith, 2012)Without this integration a learners academic success and university experiencelearners struggle to feel a sense of belonging thereby impacting their socialintegration within the university (Hussey and Smith, 2010; Tinto, 2012) whichmay lead to withdrawal (Deberad et al, 2004). Whilst universities are ensuringdisadvantaged students are supported with admissions in HEI the inequalitiesfaced with academic integration are not tackled.
Students need to feel thesense of belonging from the social and academic perspective in order to feelwelcome and part of the university domain it can be argued that without theinteraction from the students towards the university will bear on theiruniversity experience (Tinto, 1975; 1987). Circumstances and responsibilitiesi.e. employment lead to students missing out on lectures, seminars, engagementwith peers and tutors, not integrating by building wider relationships andnetworks etc.
(Clegg and Rowland, 2010). Overall this will have a huge impacton the student’s integration as they will not feel part of the university.Therefore it can suggested that educational policies must ensure students fromall social strata’s are effectively able to integrate in HE.
There is strength toBourdieu (1986) claim that the distribution of cultural, economic and socialcapital all interplay with each other and the circulation of these capitalsregulate opportunities for success for practices. Similar to cultural capitalhabitus is conveyed from within the home. Whilst cultural capital is linked toknowledge habitus is a series of attitudes and values and the dominant classhold the dominant habitus (Bourdieu, 1977) Bourdieu (1990) claims that when anindividual enters a new field, habitus is transformed.
Bourdieu and Passeron(1977) maintain that the middle-class are socialised into the dominant culturetherefore HE is part of their habitus. This is not the same for the workingclass especially for those who are the first in the family to enter HE. Workingclass students have felt like ‘fish in water’ especially as they have not hadthe same habitus as the middle class (Bourdieu and Passeron, 1979) Lastly, one more challengethat disadvantaged students may face in their university experience ismotivation and confidence as how a student feels at university will inevitablyimpact their experience at university. Many students have noted the first yearis a ‘vulnerable time’ for disadvantaged students (Thomas, 2002; Troxel andCutright, 2008) especially to socially integrate and build up confidence,motivation and see themselves able to successfully complete their study.However it can be argued that at any point of their study students may loseconfidence and motivation to study, this could be through internal or externalfactors which may not only affect their academic performance but might alsochange their viewpoint and whether to carry on in education. Therefore it isessential for student’s confidence and motivation is monitored throughout theduration of the course. There is strength to Murphy and Roopchand’s (2003)claim that adequate support is crucial especially for those who lackself-esteem and academic confidence as without this support it can affect theirexperience as well as academic attainment.
Many disadvantaged students arereluctant to apply to HE as a result of lack of academic confidence, then againstudents are still concerned about this challenge whilst at university.Students have stated that they feel like ‘fraud’ ‘inadequate ‘and ‘fear ofbeing found out’ of not being academically bright than their counterparts(Wisker,1996; Jackson, 2004). Disadvantagedstudents may lack confidence and self-esteem not only because they are in a newenvironment, increased workload but also they may feel out of place compared totraditional students academically as well as socially.
Academically they mayfeel that they are not ‘clever’ enough or not cool enough for the traditionaluniversity lifestyle. It could be said that these issues itself can becomechallenges for students. Not achieving well in assignments and exams, andreceiving negative feedback also have a direct impact on a student’sself-esteem and confidence (Baumeister and Tice, 1985). Alongside one negativefeedback is more likely to negative effect on future academic projects(Baumeister and Tice, 1985).As a result they are more likely to losemotivation, feel and accept ‘failure’ especially if this happens on more than one occasion and by doing thisthey will be more reluctant to aspire and improve their attainment.This is supported byDogson and Wood (1998) who claimed that those with high self-esteem are morelikely to achieve better in the academic setting and deal with failure thanthose with low self-esteem and confidence. Learners who are facing otherstructural or personal dilemmas may not cope with added burdens together with thelack of motivation and self-confidence may lead to withdrawal from the course(Brown and Dutton, 1995). Lack of confidence/self-esteem and motivation can beseen as challenges for disadvantaged students as it creates barriers forstudents affecting their university experience , personal life and choices aswell as academic performance and if not addressed it can lead up to withdrawalespecially if there are other internal and external barriers involved (Brownand Dutton 1995).
Each social classfamilies have a diverse access to social, cultural and economic resources asanticipated this effects the child’s entitlement to resources. Logically,individuals with increased quality resources have higher chances to come fromhigher status backgrounds. Parents’cultural capital is strongly linked to parent’s economic capital. Thusaffecting the student’s cultural capital and in return stimulating theindividual’s academic attainment. Erikson and Jonsson 1996, Mayer 2001 haveargued that those who lack the cultural capital of the institution i.e.university, lack the resources and social capital including networks andsupport to attain it will most likely encounter educational loss. Bourdieu (1977)maintains that higher social classes (traditional students) are more advantagedas education is easy accessible for them than the lower classes (Disadvantagedstudents), this is a result of the habitus of the lower class is very limitedand does not entail educational aspirations.
Therefore whether an individualsucceeds or fails depends on the class you were born into. Yet Reay et al(2009) disagrees that even though habitus is ‘internalised’ and assimilatedearly on it is still able to be changed this is as an individual changes asthey grow and confront the outside world their socialisation as a result modifies and adapts. In conclusion, even today numerousinstitutional, situational and dispositional challenges remain those studentsfrom disadvantaged backgrounds face in their university experience.
It is quitealarming that even supposing WP has been effective in widening access, it hasstill not been competent in combating the many inequalities students face today(HEFCE, 2013). Still, it is arguable, that as there are numerous barriers thatstudents face thus has resulted it being difficult and so time consuming toeradicate. Although this essay touchedupon a small proportionate of challenges, there are many others including;geographical, cultural, structural, socio-economic, financial and psychosocialchallenges that alongside need addressing and tackling in order to widenparticipation and access effectively for the under-represented groups of society.Through these factors further difficulties arise for students that will impactdisadvantaged student’s more than traditional learners whilst in theiruniversity experience. It can be said that one challenge stems to a furtherchallenge and overall all these challenges hinder retention rates. Though are a lot of wideningparticipation policies are aiming to combat the inequalities that preventstudent from applying to HE it can be argued that more needs to be done toaddress the challenges students may face whilst in their university experienceas these barriers can potentially arise any duration therefore it is crucialfor universities to engage with students and monitor their wellbeing, theirmotivation, their concerns as not only will these ensure students that supportis available alongside improving retention rates.Education equality before and withinuniversity is essential to endorse social fairness and social justice for everyindividual.
Unfortunately, there is no one fixed solution to all thesechallenges and although widening participation is aiming to address andovercome them for many years and whilst there have been changes in theproportion of disadvantaged students entering HE, it has still not beensufficient in combating all structural challenges. Universities should not onlyacknowledge and work on obstructions including looking into admission andtransition processes but also the challenges that disadvantaged students mayface whilst in their university experience including making them aware of theavailable support and services that they can access and that they may at somepoint of their study require. It must beunderstood that there is no one solution to tackle these barriers as eachobstacle will need to be addressed individually. Tackling educationaldisadvantage by addressing and monitoring in relation to access to resources,lack of advice and support is crucial as it hinders student’s chances tosuccess. Chowdry, (2010); Cunha and Heckman (2007); Budd, (2017) mutually claimthat these socio-economic disadvantages do not emerge just from the high-statusuniversities but in fact prime from education early on. Thus implying barriersought to be addressed before, during and after university. However it can beargued that the sole responsibility to address these challenges should not befundamentally thrown on universities.