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Pathways to Success in Higher Education

Rethinking the Social Capital Theory in the Light of Institutional Diversity


Gabriella Pusztai

Students are influenced by their peer networks instead of the invisible hand of meritocracy. This statement by David Riesman is still true today. The volume analyses how students make use of social connections and the expanding opportunities offered by contemporary tertiary education. The results show that the resources provided by higher education institutions may be termed social capital, adding a new dimension to literature related to students and the institutional environment.
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The most important feature of the transformation of higher education in the modern age is expansion. Having begun after World War II, this phenomenon is still being driven by ever increasing social demand. Along with the growth of student participation, the institutional system has diversified – with regional differences – into individual hierarchies of institutional types, sectors and branches of study (Teichler 2008, Zgaga et al. 2014). As the number of students has grown, the organisational complexity within educational institutions has also been increasing. The social demand for higher education is likely to increase further. It is questionable whether this will lead to greater social mobility or not, how the socially diverse student population will be distributed among different regions and institutions, whether a restructured curriculum will favour certain social groups and indeed who will learn what from whom in higher education.

The weak point of the literature analysing the consequences of the expansion is that students are left in the background and the tendency is for researchers to give an increasingly schematic picture of them (Altbach 2009). Even though student representatives were given a say in institutional decision-making owing to the democratisation of higher education after World War II, and new interest groups such as women and minorities have appeared in the system, students are still represented by only a limited amount of statistical data in the specialist discourse. Analyses focus on the behaviour of the macro-level actors of the multi-dimensional and multi-actor force field of educational...

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