Keynote Day 1

Keynote Day 1

Professor Sam Sellar
Dean of Research, Education Futures
University of South Australia

Title: “Raising aspiration”: A reflection on two decades of widening participation policy and practice

Policy agendas to raise aspirations for university study among students from low socio-economic status (SES) backgrounds have a long history. From the working class ‘poverty of desire’ thesis propounded by British socialists at the turn of the twentieth century to concerns about the educational aspirations of low SES groups at the turn of the twenty-first century, the politics of aspiration has long shaped discussions about education and social mobility. Recent aspiration-raising agendas in English and Australian higher education have aimed to realise equity objectives by cultivating dispositions to maximise self-investment in human capital. However, changes in contemporary global education and labour markets present significant obstacles to the ‘good life’ promises made by advocates of human capital theory, and even when these promises are realised, deficit constructions of aspirations persist. In this talk, Sam will reflect on a decade of research into widening participation policies that target aspirations, highlighting the tensions and setting out a framework for building the capacity to aspire.


Sam Sellar is Dean of Research (Education Futures) and Professor of Education Policy at the University of South Australia. Sam’s research focuses on education policy, large-scale assessments and the datafication of education. He began his academic career in the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education pursuing a research program focused on aspiration raising policies. He is currently co-investigator for an ESRC project investigating digital platforms in higher education (led by Janja Komljenovic, Lancaster University). Sam has published more than 70 books, book chapters and journal articles, and he is Lead Editor of Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education. His forthcoming book is Algorithms of Education: How datafication and artificial intelligence shape policy, co-authored with Kalervo N. Gulson and P. Taylor Webb.