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UK newspapers' reflection of inequity in higher education: a study using critical discourse analysis

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Publication date2013
Number of pages238
Awarding Institution
Award date21/11/2013
Place of PublicationLancaster
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Successive governments’ efforts to increase participation by people from working-class households in Higher Education (HE) in the United Kingdom (UK) have had limited success. In the widening participation debate, little has been written about the place of media coverage, particularly newspaper coverage, of HE.

The context of the study was the HE funding changes that were first proposed in the Autumn of 2010 by the Browne Review. Drawing on Pierre Bourdieu’s theoretical framework, in particular his concepts of habitus, capital, field and doxa, this study examined how, as demonstrated in newspaper coverage about HE, agents in the field of journalism responded to the proposed changes, and how they represented HE in the UK. The first main research question was: how does newspaper discourse reflect inequality that is present in the UK’s HE sector? Subsidiary research questions were how the issues of inequality in higher education were reported in the UK mainstream press, and how newspapers represented the value of HE to the individual. The second main research question was in what ways Bourdieu’s theoretical framework could contribute to the analysis of this newspaper discourse with a related subsidiary question of whether critical discourse analysis (CDA) played a useful role in this analysis in the data for this study. Two approaches to CDA were used; these were the corpus linguistics approach (CLA) and the social actors approach (SAA).

The application of CDA in the context of Bourdieu’s theoretical framework demonstrated that there were mixed messages in the newspaper discourse about HE concerning the perceived merits of pre- and post-1992 universities. The politicisation of the reporting of the HE funding changes often precluded a fuller discussion of substantive effects of these changes leading to a likely detrimental effect on informed decision making among those with least cultural capital who are under-represented at the most-selective HE institutions.