Young people and higher education

Authored by: Rachel Brooks

Routledge Handbook of Youth and Young Adulthood

Print publication date:  September  2016
Online publication date:  October  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138804357
eBook ISBN: 9781315753058
Adobe ISBN: 9781317619895


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Over the past decade-and-a-half, a significant body of research has been generated on young people’s choices about and experiences within higher education. In part this can be explained by shift to a mass system of higher education in many parts of the world: the global gross tertiary enrolment ratio (which measures the percentage of young adults in tertiary education) 1 increased from 14 per cent in 1992 to 32 per cent in 2012. However, it is also related to the high political priority that has been accorded to higher education by many national governments and transnational organisations. Higher education is typically argued by politicians and other policymakers to be a key means of ensuring economic competitiveness and growth, through ensuring a sufficient number of young people are educated to a high enough level to take up jobs in the ‘knowledge economy’. Although many scholars have questioned the evidence base for such assertions (pointing to, for example, evidence of graduate ‘under-employment’), such policy discourses have remained dominant. Moreover, within some countries such as the UK, higher education is also constructed as an important route to social mobility, and considerable resources have been devoted to initiatives to ‘widen participation’ and achieve ‘fair access’. As well as charting the importance of higher education in the lives of growing numbers of young people worldwide, recent research has been concerned to explore the increasingly international nature of higher education – in terms of the mobility of students (and sometimes their families) in pursuit of a degree, the competition between universities for international students (and the fees they pay) and the provision of off-shore activity (through, for example, distance learning and the establishment of international campuses). This chapter draws on both national and international analyses to explore young people’s access to and experiences of higher education, and their transitions into the labour market on graduation.

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