How students’ access to different forms of capitals impacts graduate success and the role of universities therein

Elizabete Figueiredo Cardoso

Research output: Thesis (awarded by external institution)Doctoral Thesis


This study uses Bourdieu’s theory of capital to discuss the role of different forms of capital on individuals’ success, and reinforcing effects among them, using Haig and Evers’ Abductive Theory of Method approach. The goals were to develop a Student Capital and Success scale and assess the weight of wealth in self-perceived success, to support higher education institutions in closing the achievement and employability gaps between students from different social backgrounds. Topics reviewed include: social class and its impact on accessing and completing higher education; Bourdieu’s social, economic and cultural capital, and their measurements across existing literature; success; and the role of universities in graduate development. Three research questions arise: what are the roles of capitals and how are they related to each other?, is there a “rich-parents effect”, i.e., do wealthy business school graduates have better chances of being successful?, and how can universities boost graduates’ success by assessing capital gaps?. The mixed methods approach used 17 semi-structured interviews and an online survey of 205 recent graduates of UK universities. Content analysis of the interviews and multivariate statistical analysis, including Structural Equation Modelling, produced as main findings: individuals raised with financial comfort exhibit higher levels of success, in what can be deemed a “rich-parents effect”; students can be diagnosed on their capitals using the Student Capital and Success scale developed here via structural equation modelling, and universities can use those results to optimise the capital set upon graduation and therefore enhance all alumni success.
The resulting Student Capital and Success scale was successfully evaluated against the Theory of Explanatory Coherence and Bryman’s criteria of Validity, Reliability and Replication.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
  • Shields, Robin, Supervisor, External person
Award date2 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2 Oct 2019


  • Career development
  • career guidance
  • social capital
  • cultural capital
  • economic capital
  • graduate success
  • Social reproduction
  • Bourdieu


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