Changing Patterns of Inequality in Higher Education: The Role of Private Universities in Cyprus

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 09:42
Oral Presentation
Marios VRYONIDES, European University Cyprus, Cyprus
Since 2007, there was a remarkable growth of a private university sector in Cyprus. This development met no resistance on ideological or political grounds but was rather actively promoted by left and right wing governments alike. This expansion of higher education was primarily driven (a) by the existence of a growing demand by lower middle class families to offer high value cultural capital to their offspring, and (b) by a rhetoric that saw higher education expansion as a field of economic growth. As a result, today 8 out of 10 secondary school graduates pursue higher education within Cyprus (roughly 50% in private or public universities) or abroad (primarily Greece and the UK).

This paper will examine whether mass participation in higher education is sustainable in a small country with limited places for prestigious white-collar jobs. In an environment of credential inflation, higher education qualifications are no longer enough to secure upward social mobility. Thus, contemporary inequalities in terms of social class effects may lie not just in accessing university education but in the unequal pattern of choices (a) for fields of study and (b) for selective (or non-selective) higher education institutions which offer distinctive symbolic advantages to graduates in the labour market. As Collins (1999) remarks, instead of having systems characterized by class‐based inclusion and exclusion, we now have a more differentiated fields of higher education. While more lower class students enter university, inequalities arise from the unequal opportunities for choice‐making. This paper explores the intersection between stratified social backgrounds and the stratifying structures of higher education destinations, which include public/private distinctions, local universities and universities abroad, different fields of study and the perceived hierarchies of institutions and qualifications gained. As always, larger social inequalities set limits on what education can achieve in terms of producing social equity of outcomes.