England lacks white working-class graduates. Quick fixes won’t change that

Feb 18, 2019 by

Phil McDuff –

Half of universities have fewer than 5% of students from poorer white backgrounds. Just trying to boost numbers isn’t enough

At half of England’s universities, fewer than 5% of students are classified as being from disadvantaged white backgrounds, according to a new report from the National Education Opportunities Network (Neon). This fact is bluntly stated as being a problem in the introduction of the report rather than the conclusion, but it is worth looking beyond these headline figures. What do reports like this really tell us?

Who attends university, and which university they attend, is a question that captures commentators and policymakers, for reasons that are related to but not fundamentally about education. Universities are both pathways and gateways. They can help train you to get somewhere new, but they also work to make sure that only the right sort of people get into positions of power. These functions overlap, but aren’t the same.

You can see the tension when we talk about, for instance, the “less prestigious post-1992 universities”. Sheffield Hallam is noted for taking on the highest numbers of students from what are called “low-participation neighbourhoods” or LPNs, but what’s wrong with Sheffield Hallam? We are forever talking about the role of universities as providing “preparation for the world of work”, but there is little discussion of the divide between the kind of work the majority of students are preparing for and the kind of work the people who make policy want them to do. Doing a nursing degree at Teesside, which comes third on the list of universities with students from LPNs, is a pretty good route into the NHS. But if you want to head into a life of talking about or making decisions about the way we train, pay and employ nurses you’re better off going doing something like PPE at Oxford or modern history at Cambridge.

Source: England lacks white working-class graduates. Quick fixes won’t change that | Phil McDuff | Opinion | The Guardian

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