A Sociological Perspective on Higher Education Fairness and Education Quality
Social justice and equity encompass all aspects of life to achieve equitable distribution of resources and equal exercising of rights and freedoms by all community members (Calma et al., 2011). As an aspect of human life studied in sociology, the education sector plays a significant role in achieving societal cohesion (Kantzara, 2016). The higher education segment of the education system, being the final stage of molding the population to produce acceptable members of society, should contribute to promoting social cohesion, equipping students with labor market-oriented skills, and reducing societal inequalities (Salmi, 2018). Furthermore, Kromydas (2017) argues that for education to serve individual intellectual development needs and societal progression, society should integrate education with emancipatory and inculcation measures.
A deeper sociological view of fairness in higher education calls for an understanding of social justice and equity issues such as class, gender, disability, and race, among others which stand firm in determining the quality of education and equality in an education system (Robson, 2020). In this regard, higher education is, therefore, crucial in determining the social status of an individual contributing to his or her recognition in society by class (Li. 2012). Similarly, Mladenov (2016) highlights that for most of the 20th century, society stigmatized people with disabilities regardless of the nature of the disability. Mladenov (2016) adds that even in the modern age marked by the 21st century, disabled people face societal discrimination in the education sector.
Hewitt (2020) paints the picture of how feminism surfaces in higher education by stating that, on average, female enrolment in higher education is higher than that of males as per the 2018 Institute of Fiscal Study report. However, a more profound analysis of the information shows that labor market competitive courses are dominated by men, which translates to the work environment where female graduates settle for underpaying jobs. Hewitt (2020) adds that this incident mainly occurs because female students halt their studies to fulfill a societal role such as mothering. Some firms give lower remunerations to female staff even though they are performing the same tasks as men.
The education sector is a vital social organ in grooming societies’ young minds into societal-friendly individuals that promotes social cohesion within a community through fairness and equality practices (Kantzara, 2016). Like in many countries, higher education institutions in China form the final frontier of skill and character development of societies’ youthful populations entering the labor market (Kromydas, 2017). Kromydas (2017) adds that higher education promotes collaboration of money and societal moral values.
Despite the extensive knowledge of the benefits of higher education in achieving social justice and fairness by promoting social cohesion, higher education institutions still significantly impact societal inequality. For instance, Binckenbach & Liu (2013) highlights that higher education enrolment across China’s provinces shows that economically stable provinces like Jiangsu and Shandong enroll more than 33 times of the enrolment in economically dwarf provinces like Qinghai and Tibet. Suppose societies do not take measures against the rising social inequality issues like in Shandong and Tibet. In that case, there could be continued low enrolment rates, reduced student participation, poor institutional academic performance, and inadequate institutional reputation.
Li’s previous research on social justice and fairness in higher education in China concluded that inequality issues impacting China’s higher education system are attributed to class demonstrated by the vast economic gap between eastern and western China residents. Another research by Kromydas (2017) on the relationship between higher education and social inequalities found that higher education has become a tool for stirring up social inequalities. Though the previous research was extensive on social inequality in higher education, the investigation failed to discuss the impact of social inequality aspects such as class, gender, race, and disability on higher education fairness and education quality. Therefore, this research will bridge the gap by discussing how class, gender, race, and disability contribute to improved student participation, good institutional reputation, high enrolment rates, and improved institutional academic performance.
This study will discuss sociological perspectives of class, gender, disability, and race on higher education fairness and education quality. The project will focus on higher education institutions in the United States by detailing social inequality concepts impacting the country’s higher education system. In comparison, previous research has tried to explain the implications of social inequality in higher education. They show very little insight into how social inequality affects education quality in higher education institutions. Therefore, this study will uniquely approach social inequality and higher education fairness and education quality by discussing how social concepts such as class, gender, disability, and race affect fairness and education quality in higher education institutes.
This research will act as reference material to scholars of various fields that would like to give a sociological perspective of social justice issues such as class and race to their field of study. Additionally, this research will broaden scholars’ understanding of social justice and fairness in the education sector of their countries.
Researchers in the field of sociology will be able to use this research to broaden their scope on social justice and equality issues in the higher education segment of the education system. Besides, the bridging of the literature gap will use this study as a secondary source of data collection in qualitative research.
Higher education institutions will use this research to create awareness of social justice and fairness issues within the school, thus helping in restoring education’s role to societal cohesion and inclusion. Similarly, higher education institutions will formulate policies and regulations that detest any forms of social injustices based on class, race, gender, and disability.
The government of China may use this research to identify multiple ways through which the education sector perpetuates societal inequality, thereby finding ways to curb societal cohesion counter-productive practices in educational institutions.
This section of the study will give a literature review on study variables, the theoretical framework guiding the research, and then finalize with the study’s conceptual framework.
According to Britannica (2020), class is the social stratification of the society in groups exhibiting similar socioeconomic traits distinctive to a particular group. The existence of a class is attributed to the production capacity of individuals, capital administration, and the presence of a disciplined labor force. Banks & M. Banks (2017) states that the impact of the family socioeconomic status of an individual on their academic achievement is much greater than the educational attributes of a school.
Gender equality is the most discussed issue on social equality and fairness since the 19th century (Monkman, 2011). Gender equality focuses on equal distribution and access to community resources by both genders, males and females alike. According to UNESCO (2020), gender equality aims at promoting the right to education which UNESCO, in collaboration with the United Nations member states, strives to achieve sustainable development goals in the society. UNESCO outlines its sustainable development goals as ensuring equitable and inclusive quality learning experience and promoting lifelong education opportunities for everyone, and achieving gender equality in a male-dominated world through women empowerment. Monkman (2011) adds that the education system can adapt curricula that support gender equality, thereby contributing to social equality.
According to Evans et al. (2017), disability, or more appropriately, impairment, refers to various means by which society deems a person’s physical, cognitive, psychological, and sensory attributes differ from what is society perceives as usual. Aquino & Bittinger (2019) add that people with impairment experience the pressure of acclimating to higher education settings. It is crucial to feel welcome in the socio-academic environment of higher education institutions. Similarly, Aquino & Bittinger (2019) state that impaired students in higher education faces social stigmatization, which inhibits their desire to ask for assistance from their colleagues.
Cole (2019) defines race as physical distinctions in the human body considered culturally significant. Byrne et al. (2020) mention racial discrimination is among social inequality issues in higher education institutions, and its extent is evident in enrolment patterns and learning outcomes of higher education institutions. Weir (2016) states that students’ learning outcomes are greatly affected by lectures’ prejudices based on race affects the quality of education their learners are receiving. Lecturers who favor a particular race will tend to give more academic attention to students of that race than students of other races.
Higher education fairness is characterized by equitable access to education resources and career paths regardless of learners’ attributes such as race, gender, and class, among others (Duru-Bellat, 2012). Instances of fairness in higher education, therefore, start at the enrolment stage where the education background of the student is considered before choosing whether they cut joining higher education institutions or not. From there, fairness progresses to equitable allocation of institution’s resources to all students irrespective of their social backgrounds.
Similarly, the society should consider elements of education quality such as process participation to gauge whether all students in the institution are receiving equal chances of participating in institutions programs (Prasad & Jha, 2013). Other education quality measures to consider institutional academic performance and institution’s reputation, which according to Prasad & Jha (2013), measure the service output delivered by the institution.
Robeyns (2011) states that capability approach theory claims that it is of primary moral importance first to pursue the freedom to achieve an individual’s well-being. That individual’s well-being should take the perception of capabilities and functioning. This study will use the capability approach theory in fulfilling the research’s objective of assessing the impact of disability on higher education fairness and education quality in China. In so doing, the study will explain how people with disabilities, when free of social stigmatization and proud to recognize themselves, can become more academically focused, thus contributing to the overall institution’s performance.
According to Jæger & Breen (2016), cultural reproduction theory argues that cultural capital is transferable from parent to child. Jæger & Breen (2016) add those children who acquire rich cultural capital from their parents readily exploit these forms of capital to their advantage. Those with low cultural capital are at a disadvantage and therefore do not readily access relevant resources to elevate their socioeconomic status. The study will employ this theory to determine how the existence of class affects higher education fairness and education quality in China.
Critical race theory (CRT) posits that race is not a biologically-based attribute of physically distinct human sub-groups but a culturally invented human categorization used as an exploitative tool against people of color (Britannica, 2021). This study will orient the CRT theory to the higher education context and illustrate how various forms of discrimination of people of color in higher education institutions lead to poor reputation and underperformance of an institution. In so doing, the study will have achieved its objective of evaluating the impact of race in higher education fairness and education quality in China.
According to Crosswood (2020) shifts sociological gender analysis towards a matriarchy viewpoint. This study will use the feminist theory to achieve its objective of establishing the impact of gender on higher education and education quality in China. In so doing, the study will be able to demonstrate how gender discrimination in higher education institutions translates to equitable distributions of resources that foster women’s participation in higher education programs.
This section of the study will discuss the research design of the study, the target population of the study, the research instrument that will be employed in data collection, the data collection procedure, what analysis tools will be used, give ethical considerations that will be taken during the research, outcome, and values and finalize with limitations of the study.
The study will employ a quantitative research design to facilitate the determination of the extent of occurrence of the independent variables under study. Additionally, according to Khalid et al. (2012), the use of quantitative will help in determining the inter-dependence between the predictor variables and the dependent variable.
The research will target students in higher education institutions in China as the population is affected by the variables under study.
The study will administer online questionnaires to university students from selected higher education institutions that pass the sampling process. The choice of online questionnaires by the study is mainly prompted by the current health concerns in the world and drive to comply with covid-19 prevention measures such as social distancing. Therefore, as stated by Evans & Mathur (2005), the study will benefit from the convenience offered by online questionnaires to both respondents and administrators as the forms can be filled at any time.
Data collection processes will begin by careful structuring of 350 questionnaires with a 5% margin of error from a population of 2688 higher education institutes in China (Textor, 2020). The study will use a rigid questionnaire such that it answers the research questions. Then the structured questionnaires will be converted into online forms using the JOT Forms software application for online forms designing. The JOT Forms application will generate a URL link for the address of the questionnaire, which will then be shared to various social media platforms and attached as a pop-out link in institution student portals, increasing the chances of attaining the required sample size.
A regression analysis will be used to analyze the collected data by running it through the Statistical Package of Social Sciences analytic tool. The use of regression analysis is ideal for the data analysis since there is more than one predictor variable for higher education fairness and education quality.
The study will take adequate measures to ensure that respondents do not forcefully provide sensitive personal information that may be damaging to the school and the student. Additionally, the study will be sure to avoid leading questions that lead to a destructive assumption of a situation, thereby addressing the psychological harm that the questionnaire might have to the respondents.
The study expects registration of a high extent of the impact of class in higher education fairness since China has adopted a communist socioeconomic structure that ideally should promote equality by reducing social stratification. Another registration of high extent of racism on higher education fairness and education quality since the topic of racism is still a hot topic of debate today. However, the study expects a moderate extent of the impacts of disability and gender on higher education and education quality in China because China as a permanent member of the United Nations, has been stressing gender equality since the founding of the United Nations. Additionally, the topic of disability has been sensitized in China since 1980 and reinforced with the founding of the China Disabled Person’s Federation (CDPF) (Y-Wang, 2016). The high extent of the impact of class on higher education fairness and quality demonstrates how the distribution of resources, institutional performance, and student participation
The use of online questionnaires possess some strain on the data collection procedure. First, the use of online questionnaires removes the benefit of respondents seeking clarification of questions they do not understand (Rice et al., 2017). Second, according to Rice et al. (2017), online questionnaires tend to have a low response rate, and even the credibility of the responses is questionable as it all depends on the mood of the respondent.
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