The higher education (HE) equity and social justice agenda is primarily concerned with inequalities in the participation of underrepresented groups. The main purpose of this agenda is to widen access to the social privileges that HE offers. Transnational policy agencies and national governments have advised higher education institutions (HEIs) to deploy relevant indicators and implement inclusive practices, such as financial assistance, nondiscriminatory admission mechanisms, and student guidance and counseling. HEIs have also been funded to provide outreach and widening participation programs in several countries. In the early 21st century, the conceptualization of HE equity and justice has broadened from fair access to more holistic, procedural, and intersectional approaches. Still, the lack of reliable, relevant, and feasible policy indicators and data make it a challenging objective to measure and follow up. Furthermore, research has pointed out the need for contextualized definitions of equity and justice because the specific social and cultural challenges differ from one country to another. Equity and justice manifest themselves in the broader design of national and regional HE systems. Some HE systems have stronger institutional stratification and financial barriers than others, hence restraining the fairness of access and social inclusion. The application of Pierre Bourdieu’s sociological theory has dominated much of the research on structural constraints of HE equity and justice. An understanding of the connection between structure/agency and the cultural reproduction opens up new avenues for the development of HE equity and justice in both policy and practice.
Higher Education Equity and Justice
Rural Education in China
Liang Du, Huimeng Li, and Weijian Wang
Rural education has received considerable attention from researchers and policy makers in their attempts to understand the deep-rooted rural/urban dichotomy in China. Most debates surround how to improve the “quality” of rural education and to “rebalance” the level of educational development between rural and urban regions. For this purpose raising the “quality” of teachers across rural schools is highlighted as the key element in many policies and studies, and the focus has shifted from addressing a teacher shortage to the recruitment and retention of quality teachers, especially in those remote regions. Issues in China’s rural education are not only reflections of rural–urban differences but also reproduce these social differentiations. Those who pay the price of the entrenched rural/urban dichotomy in China are the increasing number of “left-behind” children in the rural villages as well as the “floating” students in the urban schools whose numbers have also increased in the past decades. Most members of both groups tend to undergo a social reproduction process in the school systems and eventually become workers in the manufacturing and service industries in urban centers. Meanwhile, rural education in China is also abundant in culturally meaningful processes. While many scholars and policy makers view the rural school as a critical site for passing on the cultural inheritance of “rural China,” rural students themselves nevertheless creatively make meaning of their daily experiences and produce rich cultural forms. Some of them develop certain forms of “counterschool” culture as they experience educational failure, while others take up cultural traits valued by their rural families and turn them into a form of cultural capital, which consequently plays a pivotal role in the educational and social mobility of rural students.