Universities, disadvantage and postal codes

Last week the Guardian newspaper had an interesting article about the postcode profile of university entrants. It found, probably to nobody’s great surprise, that people living in certain postal districts are overwhelmingly more likely to go to university than those in others. We know that is true in Ireland as well: Dublin 4 has a close to 100 per cent participation rate in higher education, and Dublin 9 (which includes DCU) has a figure well below 20 per cent (with some areas within it less than 5 per cent). In the Guardian article, a working class mother from Bristol is quoted as saying:

“Most of the kids round here can’t be bothered. They’re in groups and would rather nick cars. It could be that the universities just aren’t picking them because of the way they dress and act. They don’t completely finish their words. Universities don’t like common people, do they?”

The Guardian found one other interesting feature: that children from Asian families were much more likely to go to university than those from white working class families. At a time of economic stress and a much more ethnically mixed population, that sort of profile can have an impact on racism and xenophobia.

Educational disadvantage is perhaps the greatest social cancer of any society. It installs itself within a depressing vicious cycle of deprivation, ignorance and prejudice, fuelling a whole array of social problems that quickly get out of hand. A society that ignores this is a society on skids. In Ireland we have shown some awareness of the issue, but only a very limited determination to solve it. Free fees, seen by some as part of the solution, have probably exacerbated the problem. In any case, programmes targeted specifically at alleviating disadvantage have been under-funded and neglected.

It’s time to get serious about this, and to tackle educational disadvantage head-on.

Explore posts in the same categories: education, higher education, society, university

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