Are the United Kingdom’s top flight Universities as exclusive as they’ve always been?
This stance forms the meat of an accusation launched recently by the Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) Behram Bekhradnia, who insists that our country’s most renowned higher education institutions are making little effort to improve their demographics as far as student social class and background is concerned.
Speaking at HEPI’s annual lecture, Mr Bekhradnia, the former Director of Policy for the Higher Education Funding Council, divulged that first rate Universities in the UK should aim to take a page from their American counterparts’ book. Institutions who he claims make more of an active effort to shape their student population in order to ‘represent wider society as far as possible, while maintaining high academic standards’.
Recently concluded research shows that the number of ‘poor’ students who win places at prestigious universities in this country has remained dormant for at least the past 15 years; Mr Bekhradnia claiming that the hike in students from more humble backgrounds pursuing degrees is down to less prestigious institutions making places available to them.
In his address, the director went on to assure listeners that the UK is home to one of the world’s most hierarchical higher education systems, and that the school you wind up attending can and will make a drastic difference to your chances in life.
Drawing a detailed comparison to the current system in the United States; the general sentiment of Mr Bekhradnia’s address was that whilst there may be no overt systems of exclusion or bias in place, Russell Group schools do not make a large enough effort to attract and include students from all walks of life.
Striving toward having all sects of wider society represented within a university's student population has been described as a form of social engineering - a term likely to carry various connotations dependant on your particular political standpoint, ethical outlook, or indeed your alma mater.
While American universities are wide open when it comes to detailing their attempts at social engineering, it has been suggested that here in the UK, top-level institutions refute the prospect at all cost.
Traditionally, admission into a top university in this country required that an applicant display both a flawless academic record and a solid commitment towards learning and research in their chosen field. Could there however be a direct link between the achievement of high grades and an affluent background?
Furthermore, with the recent increases in tuition fees, are students in the UK doomed to achieve only what the wealth of their parents will allow them to achieve, albeit with a few unique exceptions?
A Question of Personal Experience
I’m curious to know just how misguided or painfully accurate Mr Bekhradnia’s observations really are.
As a recent graduate, I’m yet to take a look at the prospects afforded to me by my degree, and also whether my pure-state education and working class background has held me back at all from aiming a little higher, academically speaking.
It’s sad to think that it could have, but surely an interesting and insightful dialogue can be initiated from the notion nonetheless…
Feel free to share your own thoughts on the matter and let's work together to get to the bottom of it.