University access for social justice: a capabilities perspective
The closely related, but often contradictory, issues of increasing access to university and improving students’ chances of success in their university studies have been and continue to be an important research focus within higher education studies and policy in South Africa and beyond. More recently, the challenge of underpreparedness of students entering university has gained prominence as universities struggle to increase their throughput rates. It can be argued that increasing access, without increasing chances of success, is becoming a new form of social exclusion within higher education. This paper proposes that approaching issues of access from a capabilities perspective (as developed by Amartya Sen) provides a means of fostering access for social justice and countering access that leads to social exclusion. As such, this is a theoretical paper building on existing work on the capabilities approach within education to argue that the notion of capabilities provides a useful theoretical and conceptual framework for understanding the complexities of meaningful access to university in a deeply divided society like South Africa.
Keywords: access; capabilities; higher education; social justice