‘There was something about aspiration’: Widening participation policy affects in England and Australia

Written by Dr Sam Sellar (University of Queensland) and Professor John Storan (University of East London)


This paper discusses the emergence of aspiration as a keyword linked to higher education equity policy in England and Australia since 1997. Aspiration serves multiple purposes when constructed as a problematic site in which policy must intervene. For example, it can be understood as a vector for new technologies of governance that operate through the production of entrepreneurial dispositions; as a signifier for groups that have experienced upward social mobility; and as a personality trait that correlates with future earnings and thus can be defined as a dimension of human capital. It has also provided a rallying point for equity work in higher education.

Focusing on English and Australian policy contexts, as well as the recent education work of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), we examine the different perspectives of a range of stakeholders on the strategy of ‘raising aspiration’ for higher education and how these have changed over time; the partnership work undertaken in the HE systems of both countries under the aegis of aspiration-raising policies; and recent policy developments in both contexts. In particular, we consider how aspiration-focused policies have affective effects on policy actors and seek to control affects directly by modulating feelings about capacities for action in the future.

Two data sets provide the empirical basis for the paper: (a) document analysis of major equity policies in England since 1997 and in Australia since 2008, as well as a review of relevant OECD policy documents; and (b) analysis of nine interviews with equity practitioners and policy personnel in England, Australia, and located within the OECD.

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Sellar, S. and Storan, J. (2013). ‘’There was something about aspiration’: Widening participation policy affects in England and Australia.’ Journal of Adult and Continuing Education, 19(2). p.45-65.

Posted 14 November 2013 By ncsehe