Following this argument, transitions between further and higher education in ‘dual sector’ institutions as much as elsewhere take place in the context of the wider field of higher education. This field is not only stratified, but it is also itself in transition. While this may open up possibilities for a more equitable system, it does not happen automatically: a system where participation is increased and widened, may have the same underlying structures of ‘distinction’ (Bourdieu, 1986) as a selective system, placing those who were previously outside the system altogether, into a particular, stratified place within the system.
Widdowson (2005), a principal of an FE college with considerable HE provision, admits that HE in FE tends to attract certain sorts of students, those who have less of the necessary cultural, social and economic capital, in Bourdieu’s terms, to consider the elite part of the higher education system. They are likely to have no direct family experience of HE, be more debt averse, and therefore inclined to study close to home, and want to stay with the familiar and to have good levels of support with their studies. A key motivator for studying is likely to be a specific future job or career. Bourdieu and Passeron (1990) would suggest that such students’ behaviour is governed by what is ‘reasonable’ to expect – their behaviour tacitly recognising the inequality of the higher education system, and what position they may or may not take within it. Moreover, since institutions are engaged in guiding students into higher education, and as Reay et al (2005) have found, students in FE who are the first in their family to consider HE may depend on advice from the college more than other students, there may be a channelling factor at work, whereby students are encouraged to follow particular routes and pathways, based on judgements about who the students are and where they fit into the higher education system.