Equality of opportunity in practice: studies in working, learning, and caring

(a project, sponsored by the Irish Research Council, 2014-2017)

Higher education is a social site experiencing major social change with increasing privatization and commercialization, and one where there is intense and increasing pressure to perform in market terms. This project is focused on an investigation of higher education in Ireland in terms of how equality of opportunity policies are operating in practice in the context of working, caring and learning. We will explore if, and how, the existence of equal opportunities (EO) policies, underpinned by law and EU directives, has an impact on the struggle against the economic and social inequalities across Ireland. We want to know if formal equal opportunities policies, espoused at national and EU level, are achieving the ideals of equality and inclusion they purport to promote.

We focus on higher education as a site of research where one can study working, learning, and caring conterminously, and which is formally expected to promote equality of opportunity both in education and in work terms. The research will address important questions of every-day life specifically with a range of employees in different positions and institutions within the sector of higher education in Ireland. Using interviews with employees at four different higher education institutions in Ireland, we will explore the extent to which equal opportunities policies in the work place impact on people’s lives.

Among other the research will include the following questions:

  • Do equal opportunities policies make a substantive difference to equality at work?
  • How are care and work balanced in every-day life, and how do equal opportunities policies impact on work-care boundaries?
  • How do equal opportunities policies in education translate into practice?
  • Do we have to have equality in economic and political conditions to make equality of opportunity a realizable policy objective?

Follow-up and final results  

A number of follow-up focus groups may be conducted to explore further the topics of this study. Preliminary results of the study will be presented at a number of research conferences and dissemination events organized by the research team. The final results will be published in a number of research articles and in a book authored by the research team of the project.

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