Posted tagged ‘student backgrounds’

On the road to something less inclusive

May 12, 2010

In the higher education system of this country, we are still talking the talk of inclusiveness and diversity, but in fact we are retreating from that position and walking the walk of a return to elitism.

OK, maybe I am overstating the case a little, but it is time to sound an alarm. Why? According to the most recent available statistics, the proportion of university students in this country who come from a disadvantaged background is now declining. For a number of years there has been an annual increase in these numbers, but that now appears to have come to a halt. In the HEA’s annual analysis of the backgrounds of students, the percentage of students from the groups ’employer and manager’ and ‘higher professional’ have risen, while the proportion of those classified as ‘lower professional’, ‘non-manual’, ‘skilled manual’ and ‘semi-skilled’ have fallen. The figures for ‘unskilled’ have stayed the same, but at 4.1 per cent it’s not significant anyway.

In fairness, the shift is not large for now, but the reversal of the trend is still alarming. But more importantly, it is very likely that this trend will continue and accelerate. It is a well established fact that the capacity of a higher education sector to provide for the socio-economically disadvantaged depends on a reasonable level of funding and income, and as this drops the very expensive supports for those whose families have no traditional link with universities are quickly compromised. In Ireland we have exacerbated this problem voluntarily by deciding to focus the declining resources for higher education on the more affluent classes, courtesy of the well meant but ill judged ‘free fees’ scheme.

Running a university system that takes its students largely from the more affluent classes is much less complicated and troublesome than being inclusive. But it is immoral. I fear that as a country we are abandoning our inclusiveness agenda by stealth, and if we do so we will pay a price for it in due course.

What we are doing is not good enough.