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Durham e-Theses
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‘Fish out of water?’ A case study exploring low-income students’ experiences of an
elite university.

MASLIN, EMMA,LOUISE (2016) ‘Fish out of water?’ A case study exploring low-income students’ experiences of an
elite university.
Masters thesis, Durham University.

PDF (Emma Maslin MAR Thesis 2016) - Accepted Version


Widening participation policy in the United Kingdom seeks to improve access to higher education for non-traditional students including students from low-income
backgrounds. However, widening participation policy fails to address participation for low-income students across their student lifecycle; it only focuses on improving access to higher education. My study seeks to address this shortfall by exploring the experiences of students from low-income backgrounds at an elite university in order to demonstrate the difficulties students experience in participating in university life. Using the Bourdieusian concepts of field, habitus and cultural capital for analysis, the study examines whether these students feel like a ‘fish out of water’ in the unique culture of an elite university. The thesis begins by examining students’ experiences of the entire student lifecycle, beginning with the admissions process and following with their initial experiences of the elite university culture. It also analyses the long-standing coping strategies employed by these students in order to ‘fit in’ to the elite university culture and thus feel like a ‘fish in water’ in this particular field of practice. The thesis concludes by arguing that students displayed signs of dialectal confrontation on first interaction with the
elite university culture. However, once students became more accustomed to the elite university culture, students felt like a ‘fish in water’. A majority of students modified their habitus once at the elite university in order to ‘fit in’, operating a cleft habitus that allowed them to operate multiple identities depending on their field of situation.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Award:Master of Arts
Keywords:widening participation; student experience; higher education; sociology; education; cultural capital; habitus; Bourdieu
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Education, School of
Thesis Date:2016
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:05 Dec 2016 10:54

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