David Block and Lidia Gallego

The need for greater attention to the notion and practice of working class ethnic minority students in Catalan higher education.

Over the past two decades, widening participation in British higher education has meant an increase in the number of 18-24 year-olds attending university and in the process there has been a notable increase in the number of minority ethnic students from working class backgrounds attending university. Following trends across Europe during the same period of time, an increase in participation in higher education in Spain (and more specifically, Catalonia) also took place, aided by an increase in funding from successive governments. By 2010, Spain was slightly above average in OECD terms (OECD, 2012) as regards the percentage of 25-34 year-olds with higher education qualifications (39% vs 38%), just under average the percentage of 20-29 year-olds enrolled in full-time and part-time education (24% vs 27%) and average as regards the percentage of young people entering university-level education (just under 50%; roughly the same as the UK). Nevertheless, one major difference between British and Spanish (and Catalan) higher education is that while in Britain there is in-depth tracking of the student make-up, not only in terms of race and gender, but also in terms of class, in Spain (and Catalonia) very little has been published about class and even less about the presence of minority ethnic students. Thus while in Britain academic debate has moved beyond the classification of students to an exploration of how the multilingualism of many minority ethnic students is or is not acknowledged and drawn as a positive resource in higher education (the main focus of this seminar series), in Spain and Catalonia there is still a need for a greater focus on the relative presence (or non-presence) of working class students (Troiano & Elias, 2014), ethnic minority students and above all working class ethnic minority students. In this paper, we aim to begin to fill this gap in research, as we focus on class, race, ethnicity and gender among the student body at the University of Lleida, our place of employment. We draw on interviews carried out with a small cohort of minority ethnic students, in which we attempt to access information about their personal and academic trajectories and their current experiences as higher education students. We devote particular attention to the ways that these students talk about the different languages in their lives: their home languages, Catalan and Spanish as official and effective languages of most activity taking place in the different environments that they inhabit, and English and other additional languages with which they have come into contact in formal educational settings. We believe that universities outside the UK (in this case in bilingual Catalonia) present a very different take on the notion of the multilingual university, and this paper will move in the direction of showing how.


Ministerio de Education, Cultura y Deporte (2014) Datos Básicos del Sistema Universitario Español: Curso 2013/2014. Available: http://www.mecd.gob.es/prensa-mecd/dms/mecd/prensa-mecd/actualidad/2014/02/20140213-datos-univer/datos-cifras-13-14.pdf

Troiano, H. & Elias, M. (2014) University access and after: explaining the social composition of degree programmes and the contrasting expectations of students. Higher Education, 67: 637–654.


View BLOCK_GALLEGO slides here

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