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Access to Education and inequality—Re-thinking EU Policies in terms of Acessibility of Education

In the context of the knowledge society, the topic of access to education is most often related to access to higher levels of education (e.g., ISCED 3-6) or to lifelong learning, where it tends to be concerned with debates around widening access to particular groups, especially in relation to gender, socio-economic status, and ethnicity. The current focus on education in the framework of Horizon 2020, which links closely economic and social aims as policy objectives, may illustrate well this approach.
Further, access is closely related to the structural and institutional arrangements, yet obviously the existence of formal rights, normative provisions and access structures are necessary but insufficient preconditions to participation in education. As long as there are complex barriers to obtaining effective access the issue of access to education cannot be said to be tackled, let alone solved. One important insight from current research is that the apparently ‘simple technical’ issue of increasing access must be enlarged by an understanding of ‘accessibility’ in order to bring to the fore the complexity of ‘getting’ access, i.e., structural/societal dimensions need to be connected to individual/subjective aspects when tackling issues of access to education.
This presentation first sharpens the concept of access and inequality by pointing to the interplay of structure and agency as well as to processes of social differentiation in which differences are constructed. Referring to interactional and intersectional considerations, the more comprehensive concept of “accessibility” is suggested as an integrative approach to the issue at hand. Examples are discussed drawing from research findings from a European research project (GOETE). In the concluding section, some recommendations are made which bear relevance both for those planning and implementing policy.