In this week’s article Sophie really wanted to discuss a subject that she think needs to be debated: the class divide and lack of presence of working-class and individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds in universities. She continues to ask the question, how open is the higher education system to individuals from a lower socio-economic background?
It was revealed in 2016 that at the most selective universities in the UK 3.6% of disadvantaged young people from impoverished areas in England entered a highly selective university, compared to 21.3% of applicants from the most advantaged areas.
There is a growing gap between the higher education system and working-class communities.
Sadly, the two entities aren’t thought of as interlocking and associating themselves with one another, they are not thought as along the same vein. It is a deeply complex issue that has itself rooted in classism and societal stereotypes we are fed. For example, comparing an individual from an upper-class family, who has received a private education to an individual from a deprived area in Manchester, who has received a public education – who is more likely to go to university? Which individual does the word ‘university’ suit more?
As I hope you can see, the notion of ‘going to university’ has built an identity around the upper class and – in doing so – has alienated the lower class. Furthermore, it has ingrained the idea of an institution being for the social elite and not the everyday person. This effect is personified through the fact that lower social class groups represent 28% of the total entrant to full-time undergraduate study.
I think that the socioeconomic gap in university attendance has been grounded in attitudes and behaviours of both the university, and those of lower socio-economic groups concerning “university”. For example, white working-class males are one of the groups whose attendance at university is low, this maybe is to do with the pre-conceptions and the stereotypes propagated to them of what being a ‘working-class man’ is and what masculinity may be.
Moreover, I think that the long-standing pre-conceptions and misconceptions of university play a key role in the widening socio-economic gap. For many working-class individuals, university has the affiliation of being costly and leaving yourself in debt, leading to many disadvantaged young people choosing apprentices or work after education, rather than higher education. This misinformed conception highlights that lack of information and funding available to lower income families, surrounding university.
This is something that I can relate to being someone from a working-class family. University was definitely seen in a suspicious and pessimistic light. Before applying for university, it was associated with money and having money, due to the environment in which I grew up (which fed my pre-conceptions). There had been insufficient information on offer about university, which had manifested and grown over the generations of my family.
I remember when I got accepted into Nottingham, it was a significant moment for myself and my family, because I was the first person to be studying in higher education.
When I told everyone, I recall people being surprised when I told them I was going to the University of Nottingham. Reflecting on this, it is funny how people were surprised that I was going, possibly due to my working-class background.
Things need to change, and universities need to open up and become a place which represents everyone, regardless of class status. The government has recognised this key issue and has set goals to widen lower socio-economic participation, but this may take generations.
It is difficult task to do, whilst bias is so deeply rooted in universities and particular at the most prestigious universities, where it is glaringly obvious there is a class gulf and lack of class diversity.
The chairman of the Houses of Commons Education Select Committee, Robert Halfton, has noted that the developed gulf between the working class and going to university has become something of a taboo topic to talk about and this has to change. With inequalities like this, we have to continue to deabte, so this problem does not fall by the wayside.
In my opinion, the government needs to strive to make the higher education system more inclusive and representative of socio-economically disadvantaged people.