Student support practitioners, who provide students with academic, emotional and social support, are integral to higher education institutions’ initiatives to widen participation of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Yet, despite calls for a deeper understanding of widening-participation practice, the work of these professionals has received scant research attention. Drawing on interviews with 39 support practitioners working in Israeli higher education institutes, this study explores how practitioners negotiate two contrasting yet coexistent interpretations of ‘deficit’: student deficit, focused on student inadequacies, and an institutional deficit, focused on shortcomings of the higher education institution. In analyzing how support practitioners negotiate this dual deficit, I draw on the theoretical constructs of tempered radicalism and conservative audacity. The study provides new perspectives on the challenges of widening participation in the current higher education policy climate and reveals the strategies of action that support practitioners use to manage them. The study also contributes to the literature on organizational agency, through the theoretical development of the concept of conservative audacity as agency for change, illuminating the situations in which organizational members who do not challenge institutional frameworks nevertheless disrupt the status quo as part of their everyday work.
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© 2021 Society for Research into Higher Education.
- student support
- Widening participation
ASJC Scopus subject areas