Walking through fog: social inequalities and the journey to postgraduate taught study in England

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Abstract

Although postgraduate expansion swiftly followed the massification of undergraduate provision, with classed inequalities in access, postgraduate taught (PGT) education has rarely received the same level of scholarly attention as the critical mass of undergraduate research. To address this partial research lacuna, the paper traces 41 biographical narratives of first-generation students enrolled on taught Master’s programmes at four English universities, complemented by four dialogic analysis workshops. Theorising social inequalities as lived and navigated structure and process, the paper traces a continuity of familiar refrains of inequality from undergraduate to postgraduate study. However, it illustrates how these may be reformulations, rather than replications. Firstly, it discusses material and symbolic barriers to PGT affordability including high fee levels, familial histories of debt and religious beliefs. Secondly, it emphasises that geographical mobility may be impossible or undesirable for Master’s students due to relatively more ‘complicated’ lives, emplaced commitments, the subjectivity of social space and affective ties to place. Finally, it underscores that ‘fitting in’ still matters at PGT, as students may either divert from or feel uncomfortable in ‘highstatus’ spaces where they feel they do not belong. In concluding, the paper argues the case for fully integrating PGT into HE equity agendas.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages13
JournalStudies in Higher Education
Early online date9 May 2022
DOIs
Publication statusEarly online - 9 May 2022

Keywords

  • postgraduate
  • M-level
  • PGT
  • widening participation
  • fair access
  • inequality
  • UKRI
  • ESRC

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