Building on ongoing research on factors which impact on student academic achievement in HEI’s Scotland and Brazil, in this paper we explore the impact of widening access in higher education and the challenges in learning and teaching in online, conventional and hybrid contexts. Using qualitative methods and in depth semi-structured interviews, 14 participants were interviewed. Building on Freire’s concept of empowerment and Bourdieu’s concept of habitus, we explore student perceptions of assessment. This qualitative study documents how and in what way students perceive the function of assessment in the context of widening access and marketization. Results presented thematically indicate that student perceptions of the purpose of the assessment and academic qualification are at odds with institutional habitus. Several embargoes impacting on academic achievement were revealed that influence academic success in higher education institutions for non-traditional students. These factors include social class, educational background in the context of institutional habitus. Findings indicate the need for further research to recognise the impact of shifting organisational patterns within higher education institutions on the student experience of academic writing and assessment.