Researching inequality in higher education: tracing changing conceptions and approaches over fifty years

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Fifty years ago, higher education globally had started to change radically in terms of the proportion of young people enrolled in the system as well as society's expectations for what this would deliver. From the outset, Higher Education has featured research interrogating various aspects of inequality in higher education, including institutions and staff as well as students. This article offers an overview of that work. Our analysis is structured around three levels at which major questions on this topic have been framed and investigated. The macro level focuses on national systems and looks at widening participation, especially the increase in access to higher education for young people. The meso level mostly focuses on institutions and their engagement with organisational inequality. The micro level focuses on the lived experiences of academics, in this case focusing on gender and race. We adopted a thematic and purposive approach to article choice, ultimately selecting key papers for further illustrative analysis. In our analysis, we tracked changes in areas of empirical or other emphasis, the use of a variety of theoretical and epistemological frameworks and methods, policy recommendations, and the geographical locations of authors and their content. We noted a growing emphasis on intersectionality and a widening range of countries but also more critical analyses and suggestions for more radical changes in higher education systems.

Inequality, Discrimination, Widening participation, Organisational policy, Lived experience