Iakovos Tsiplakides


In recent decades, the move from an elite to a mass higher education system in many countries and the resulting expansion of the higher education sector has not brought about a significant decrease in social inequalities. An important factor that has contributed to the persistence of social inequalities is attributed to the fact that increased access has been accompanied by a differentiated and stratified higher education sector. In this framework, researchers from many countries argue that students from upper and middle class backgrounds, with higher levels of cultural and social capital, are much more likely to attend high status higher education institutions and departments. By contrast, working class students usually choose to attend institutions and departments with a lower status. Class differentials in relation study completion and retention rates also exist, since working class students have lower retention rates than students from upper and middle class backgrounds. Bearing the above issues into consideration, in this paper, we conduct a short bibliographical review of studies examining the reasons for the persisting social inequalities in higher education and the relationship between social class and allocation in the different departments in higher education. We also present critically the most influential explanatory frameworks employed in the analysis and interpretation of the issue. Research findings provide strong evidence social class, and the students’ cultural and social capital play a major role in the persistence of social inequalities. Implications for policy makers are clear. On the basis of the above, we argue that socio-economic inequalities within higher education cannot be dealt with unless we tackle the issue of differentiated allocation in the different higher education departments.


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