Complex data sets are required because the distribution of capabilities is embedded in families, schools, university educational and social arrangements, and work-readiness activities. Insights into these processes will be gained by exploring student pathways, experiences, aspirations and plans for their future careers. We will also explore their values and commitments to contributing to an inclusive society, and what forms and sustains these values. In addition, students will be involved in participatory workshops and research processes so that the project directly expands their capabilities and operationalizes their right to research. The combined data sets, consisting of both quantitative and qualitative data, will enable both a macro view of the educational pathways of the selected student population, but also fine-grained micro accounts of their lives. We have thus designed a multi-method, longitudinal study to investigate the complex nature of how higher education opportunities and achievements are distributed among students from challenging rural and township contexts. The project will work with the youth-led, non-profit Thusanani Foundation (www.thusananifoundation.org/). The research participants are young people who have gained access to higher education through the support of the Foundation. These young people will be in their second year of study in 2017; they are distributed across four diverse university sites and studying engineering, science, commerce and humanities subjects at diploma or degree level.