There are questions about whether widening participation in higher education is a force for democratisation or differentiation. While participation rates are increasing globally, there has been scant research or socio-cultural theorisation of how different structures of inequality intersect in the developing world. Questions also need to be posed about how higher education relates to policy discourses of poverty reduction and the Millennium Development Goals. The paper explores participation in higher education, utilising statistical data and life history interviews with students in two public and two private universities. It focuses on how gender and socio-economic status intersect and impede or facilitate participation in higher education. A key question is whether adding numbers to a previously elite system, is undermining or redistributing the power of socio-economically privileged groups. It is pertinent to ask who the new constituencies of students are and how they are faring in diverse higher education systems.
Paper presented at the Consortium of Higher Education Researchers (CHER) Annual Conference in Pavia, Italy, 11-13 September 2008. 35 pp.