OK, I know many of you are tired of league tables, but bear with me on this one. What would you say is being measured by a UK university league table in which London Metropolitan University and the University of Greenwich come out on top, and the stragglers right at the bottom include the Universities of St Andrews, Oxford and Cambridge? Well, I suppose it’s not a difficult one to figure out: this league table, published this week in the Guardian newspaper, records what percentage of students come from a manual occupational background. So for example, Oxford University in the academic year 2008-09 admitted 2,875 first year students, of whom only 275 came from a manual employment background. Actually, St Andrews didn’t admit any from that background at all.
I shouldn’t really spoil the story, but when you get to the top of the league table the positions may be right, but the numbers given don’t add up at all: but hey, it’s the Guardian…
But more interesting still is the proportion of manual background students in particular degree subject areas. Medicine, history, philosophy and languages have the least participation by students from a manual background, while the highest participation is in education, agriculture and computer science.
One of the real risks faced by an education sector during a financial crisis is that of social exclusion and apartheid. As I know from my DCU term of office, we always had to work extremely hard in order to maintain a reasonable diversity of background. It was also noticeable that as the recession appeared, we lost applicants from poorer backgrounds, even when we were able to offer them financial support.
Amidst all the wonderful things that higher education does, it also has the capacity to entrench social divisions, and constant care (and, to be honest, lots of money) is needed to avoid that. Right now we are in real danger of allowing the re-gentrification of higher education, and we had better get moving to stop it from gathering pace.Explore posts in the same categories: higher education, university comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.