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Open Access Widening participation; widening capability

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This paper proposes that widening participation in higher education might distinctively be conceptualised beyond economically driven human capital outcomes, as a matter of widening capability. Specifically, the paper proposes forming the capability of students to become and to be 'strong evaluators', able to make reflexive and informed choices about what makes a good life for each of them. Evaluating equality and justice in higher education, and specifically the case of 'widening participation', is then greatly advanced by considering the conceptual tools provided by Amartya Sen's capability approach. The paper therefore elaborates on Sen's ideas and demonstrates their applicability in relation to widening participation student voices gathered in research interviews. Important though Sen's ideas are, there are barriers that stand in the way of taking up these ideas educationally. While three such barriers are acknowledged in the paper, four resources of possibility for recovering widening participation as capability formation from neoliberal and other forms of instrumentalism are also sketched.

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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 2008

More about this publication?
  • Founded in 2003 by the UCL Institute of Education, the journal reflects the Institute's broad interests in all types of education in all contexts - local, national, global - and its commitment to analysis across disciplines using a variety of methodologies. It shares the Institute's aspiration to interrogate links between research, policy and practice, and its principled concern for social justice.

    Drawing on these strengths, LRE is a wide-ranging and engaging journal that features rigorous analysis and significant research across key themes in education, including: public goals and policies; pedagogy; curriculum; organization; resources and technology; and institutional effectiveness. Articles and book reviews are written by experts in education, psychology, sociology, policy studies, philosophy and other disciplines contributing to education research, and by experienced researcher-practitioners working in the field. The highest quality of reporting and presentation are ensured through an independent, anonymised peer-review process. As an entirely web-based open access journal, LRE has been able to offer innovative features and formats including: epistolary conversation; colour photos and illustrations; illustrative video clips.

    LRE welcomes relevant articles and book reviews. Please email them to [email protected]

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