The Educating All Programme
Reclaim are a youth charity based in Manchester promoting leadership among young working class people and operate around Greater Manchester. They support young people to provide them with a voice and platform to be seen and heard. Amongst their diverse programmes is Educating All. Educating All is a student-led programme delivering training and support to academic institutions in order to promote the retention and success of working class students.
The Educating All report, looking into the barriers working-class students face when entering top higher education institutions (HEI), was developed and published by recent working class graduates of Reclaim – Terry Manyeh and Martha Hilton. The aim of the report was to better understand the measures universities have in place to address the barriers noted in the report and to identify what constitutes best practice on social mobility within higher education.
Recent research into the outcomes of students from lower-socio-economic backgrounds in HE shows that they are 3.4% more likely to drop-out, 5.3% less likely to graduate and 3.7% less likely to graduate with a first or 2:1 than those from higher-socio-economic backgrounds. A report by the Social Mobility Commission states that despite an increase of 6% in the proportion of state-educated pupils between 2003-04 and 2013-14, independently schooled pupils still make up around two-fifths of the intake at both Oxford and Cambridge.
These worrying figures suggest that although some progress has been made in widening participation at university for under-represented groups, there is still a way to go if universities are serious about social mobility.
The term cultural capital (a subject explored and developed by Pierre Bourdieu) refers to non-financial social assets that enable social mobility beyond economic means, for example style of speech, dress, or physical appearance. In relation to HE, it is widely accepted that middle class or privately educated students whose parents have been to university have the highest levels of cultural capital, whereas those first generation university students from working class backgrounds have the lowest. Thus cultural capital is a significant asset that plays an important role in the social mobility of a student at university.
The research team conducted interviews with 16 students and recent graduates from Russell Group universities throughout the UK as well as 10 members of staff and student officers from 5 universities. All participants were selected who identified as coming from a lower-socio-economic background.
The key findings that were included in the report were that working class students lack a sense of belonging and entitlement to their place at university and feel alienated in that environment. Many students find interacting with tutors in positions of authority and peers from private school backgrounds intimidating. Also, there is a lack of mental health support for these students and an awareness and understanding amongst staff and students about this issue.
While there appears to be some progress made in tackling social inequality and under-representation within HE, it is clear that we need to continue to find ways to challenge barriers and develop an understanding for students and staff. From the findings in the research conducted, the report provides some key recommendations to help tackle the barriers lower-socio-economic students are facing.
- Academic staff should have to undertake training in how to deal with the specific needs of working class students
- Universities should appoint a Working Class Diversity Officer
- An alumni mentoring scheme should be created
- Universities should have greater engagement with nearby communities
- Internship schemes should be created including financial support and also support with making contacts
- Oxford and Cambridge need a standardised approach to access, mental health, financial support and accommodation across the colleges
- Universities should publish a measurement of success recording the progress on social mobility and working class retention and attainment rates
To find out more about the Educating All Programme follow this link
Another relevant subject is this Podcast by ThinkTank Class exploring the realities of class in Britain today