Publication Details

McMahon, S., Harwood, V. & Hickey-Moody, A. (2016). ‘Students that just hate school wouldn’t go’: educationally disengaged and disadvantaged young people’s talk about university. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 37 (8), 1109-1128.


This paper contributes to a growing body of literature on widening university participation and brings a focus on the classed and embodied nature of young people’s imagination to existing discussions. We interviewed 250 young people living in disadvantaged communities across five Australian states who had experienced disengagement from compulsory primary and secondary schooling. We asked them about their education and their educational futures, specifically how they imagined universities and university participation. For these young people, universities were imagined as ‘big’, ‘massive’ alienating schools. The paper explores how the elements of schooling from which these young people disengaged became tangible barriers to imagining and pursuing participation in university education. The primary barrier they described was their relationships with school teachers. Our analysis shows how relationships with teachers can impact the imagined improbability/probability of university participation. We offer suggestions for how barriers to university created by poor relationships with teachers may be overcome.

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