Working Paper no. 3 Published

20 December

Widening Participation and Career Guidance

We are proud to announce the publication of the third IYTT Working Paper, ‘Widening Participation and Career Guidance: Filling Quotas or Enabling and Empowering?’ authored by Erik Toshach, Master of Arts in Intellectual History, and Assistant Fellow at the IYTT.

The institutions of democracy are under attack. Over the last decades, support for, and trust in, the democratic system has been eroding. Totalitarian and authoritarian regimes have gained in strength, number, and boldness. At the same time, the world face unprecedented ecological challenges that the present order is woefully slow in addressing. As if risen from the grave, even the spectre of nuclear holocaust is once again looming in the sky. The notion of an “end of history” has been proven terribly wrong. Instead, history seems to be written daily. It would not be overly dramatic to claim that the open society must evolve or succumb, perhaps leading to a completely different “end of history” than the one imagined by Francis Fukuyama.

In the end, the only resource that humankind can claim for its own, is knowledge. As a collective, people must find out both what is the right thing to do but also how to do it. A knowledge encompassing both the “how” and the “what” – Bildung in the terminology of Vilhelm von Humboldt, liberal education in that of Martha Nussbaum – requires the opportunity for the intellect to freely seek the knowledge it craves.

In the past, higher education has served to build exploratory and emancipating knowledge but, for centuries, only as the privilege of a small elite. At this moment in time, it seems as if everyone needs to become scientists and philosophers – to a greater or lesser degree – if mankind is to survive. Widening participation in higher education is thus essential to building a sustainable and democratic future.

The third IYTT Working Paper is a critical research overview informed by a proposal from the IYTT Youth Conference 2021, advocating mandatory career guidance to increase participation of disadvantaged groups in higher education. Three questions are explored: 1) What is the current state of supranational European policy on widening participation in higher education and what strategies are being implemented? 2) Which problems can be identified in existing widening participation strategies? 3) How can comprehensive career guidance in upper secondary schools address widening participation objectives, and what kind of career guidance is required to reach positive results?

The paper shows that expanded career guidance can address problems of widening participation but that it requires a critical perspective, allowing both for the empowerment of students to make informed decisions, and for enabling them to follow through on their aspirations. If higher education is about the free exploration of knowledge, then such freedom must begin before enrolment. A democratic approach to widening participation must not be about filling quotas but about allowing young people to explore.

The results from the research overview paper will be presented at a Gothenburg Democracy talks lunch event on widening participation 10 February.

Erik Toshach