The university as an agent of social change: the Chilean experience

Chacon, Ricardo
Chile, Love
Garden, Kathryn
Shirley, Ian
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

This thesis examines educational outcomes in Chile to determine whether or not universities act as agents of social change or whether they merely reinforce existing inequalities in society. In order to address this issue, the thesis builds a multi-layered interpretation of social change and a historically sensitive understanding of Chile’s development over time. By adopting an integrated approach linking the country’s social and cultural traditions with political, economic and social realities, the research builds a dynamic interpretation of the way in which higher education in Chile has been shaped by internal and external forces over time. As in other higher education systems the public discourse in Chile identifies universities as ‘agents of social change’ with the assumption being that these institutions act in the public interest as ‘critic and conscience’ of society. The fundamental problem with assumptions such as these is that they stem from theoretical and ideological positions that dominate the discourse on higher education rather than a detailed examination of empirical outcomes. By utilising two alternative theoretical traditions, namely human capital theory and the critical tradition, this research examines the trend data for Chilean universities in terms of enrolment, the teaching-learning process and outcomes. From this detailed empirical examination, it is evident that participation rates in higher education have increased over the past twenty years and this includes the increasing participation rates of the most vulnerable socio-economic groups. The gap in terms of access to higher education however, remains wide when comparing individual social and economic groups. Inequities in academic progress are linked to the social origins of students and directly impact on academic success. These disparities are reinforced by the labour market in terms of employment opportunities and in the persistence of barriers for ‘working class’ graduates seeking to climb the social scale. It seems evident from this research that the higher education system perpetuates and maintains inequalities rather than facilitating mobility and social equity. Despite the expressions of confidence in education as a force for change this research questions those assumptions and in that respect it makes an original contribution to knowledge. It challenges us to focus on societal trends and outcomes rather than the individuals in the system. The research concludes by making a number of tentative policy recommendations as well as suggesting areas for further research. Enter the abstract of your thesis

Higher education policy , Social mobility
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