An ecological fallacy in higher education policy: the use, overuse and misuse of 'low participation neighbourhoods'

MCCAIG, Colin and HARRISON, Neil (2015). An ecological fallacy in higher education policy: the use, overuse and misuse of 'low participation neighbourhoods'. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 39 (6), 793-817.

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One form of ecological fallacy is found in the dictum that 18you are where you live 19 13 otherwise expressed in the idea that you can infer significant information about an individual or their family from the prevailing conditions around their home. One expression of this within higher education in the UK has been the use (and, arguably, overuse and misuse) of 18low participation neighbourhoods 19 (LPNs) over the last 15 years. These are areas that have been defined, from historic official data, as having a lower-than-average propensity to send their young people on to university. These LPNs have increasingly become used within the widening participation and social mobility agendas as a proxy for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds who have the potential to benefit from higher education, but who would not attend without encouragement, support and/or incentives. In this article, we explore the various uses to which LPNs have been put by policy makers, universities and practitioners, including the targeting of outreach activities, the allocation of funding and the monitoring of the social mix within higher education. We use a range of official data to demonstrate that LPNs have a questionable diagnostic value, with more disadvantaged families living outside them than within them, while they contain a higher-than-expected proportion of relatively advantaged families. We also use content analysis of university policy documents to demonstrate that universities have adopted some questionable practices with regard to LPNs, although some of these are now being actively discouraged.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: Published online: 22 Jan 2014
Uncontrolled Keywords: Low participation neighbourhoods; higher education policy, widening participation, social justice; universities
Research Institute, Centre or Group - Does NOT include content added after October 2018: Sheffield Institute of Education
Identification Number:
Page Range: 793-817
Depositing User: Colin Mccaig
Date Deposited: 11 Mar 2014 17:28
Last Modified: 18 Mar 2021 04:21

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