Building capabilities for higher education prior to entry

Karen Campbell*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Inequality of participation in higher education persists despite a wealth of research and interventions. This has led to calls to rethink what it means to be university ready , especially for learners from disadvantaged backgrounds, many of whom are first-generation students. This paper explores the efficacy of a unique widening participation model based on immersing learners in the university environment prior to entry to HE in Scotland. Data from interviews with 30 students who participated in the programme are mapped to Wilson-Equitable Transitions to University (2016) which is based on the Capability Approach. Capability theorists contend that an appropriate approach to widening participation would address what students need to be able to do and to be (their capabilities) to successfully make the transition to HE. Evidence from this study suggests that the experience of studying HE level qualifications within a university setting whilst still at school provides learners from disadvantaged backgrounds with the capabilities for an equitable transition to university. A key finding is that when capabilities for equitable transitions are fostered prior to entry, learners identify as university students. The paper contributes to the body of knowledge at the nexus of widening participation, transition and capabilities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-31
Number of pages27
JournalWidening Participation and Lifelong Learning
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2019


  • capabilities
  • identity
  • readiness
  • Scotland
  • transition
  • widening participation


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