Facing Symbolic Violence: A Cruel Tale of Competitive University Admission

Remy Yi Siang Low


In this text, I offer an account of the Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR) – a competitive university admissions ranking system – and its impact on historically underrepresented youths’ aspirations toward higher education. It is a fictionalised tale of the experiences of a careers advisor in a suburb in Western Sydney on a day in 2012 when ATARs were allocated to prospective university entrants. Centred on the protagonist’s interactions with five students, this story discloses a world of experiences usually hidden from view, foregrounding the irreducible human suffering that dwells in the gap between policy slogans of “raising aspiration” toward higher education in Australia and the prevalent symbolic violence of the education system, a suffering represented by the faces of the young people who bear it.


Higher Education; Education Policy; Fiction; Narrative; Bourdieu; Levinas

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ISSN 1920-4175 Critical Education