Elitism and social discrimination persist, but what is to blame?

We should be clear: schools, universities, and leading firms all have a part to play in the continuation of elitism and social class discrimination

We should be clear: schools, universities, and leading firms all have a part to play in the continuation of elitism and social class discrimination

According to a study by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, published today, the UK is still “deeply elitist”, dominated in top positions by people educated at independent schools and Oxbridge.

Alan Milburn, who heads the Commission, said that many institutions that matter appear to be more like a “cosy club”.

The findings today show of certain leading professions, the proportion of people who went to fee-paying schools included:

  • 71% of senior judges;
  • 62% of senior armed forces officers;
  • 55% of permanent secretaries (the most senior civil servants);
  • 53% of senior diplomats;
  • 45% of chairmen and women of public bodies;
  • 44% of the Sunday Times Rich List;
  • 43% of newspaper columnists; and
  • 26% of BBC executives.

This news is hardly likely to elicit too much surprise. In 2010 David Lammy MP made a series of Freedom of Information requests which found Oxford University’s social profile is 89% upper and middle class. Similarly the Cambridge student body is 87.6%. At the time the average for universities in Britain was 66%.

The questions that remains is where it all goes wrong? Are companies themselves in top institutions and fields of excellence to blame? Are Universities themselves to blame? Or is there a wider problem within education more broadly?

A study on fair access to universities published in May last year in the British Journal of Sociology gained access to Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) data for between the years of 1996-2006. It found that as regarding access to Russell Group universities very little had actually changed following the introduction of tuition fees in 1998 and their initial increase to £3,000 a year in 2006.

However rather shockingly, applicants from lower class backgrounds and state schools remained the group least likely to apply to Russell Group universities than their comparably qualified counterparts from higher class backgrounds and private schools. For various reasons despite performing as well, the least privileged group were the least likely to make those applications.

Similarly Russell Group applicants from state schools and Black and Asian ethnic backgrounds were less likely to receive offers of admission from Russell Group universities in comparison with their equivalently qualified peers from private schools and the White ethnic group – which suggests the error for lacking diversity lays squarely with the universities themselves.

One of the most telling findings of the research is that pupils from state schools needed to be the equivalent of two grades better than privately educated pupils to be as likely to apply for Russell Group universities.

Another study from 2012 Journal of the Royal Statistical Society found that poor achievement in secondary schools is more important in explaining lower rates of participation in high education among pupils from low income backgrounds. The research concludes by suggesting that schools, not necessarily higher education institutions, need to be doing more for HE participation and fair access.

One other study, this time in the Journal of Professions and Organization, found that discrimination within leading law firms in the City of London was based on two things: the need to attract talent (the suggestion perhaps being that talent is harder to come by if a diversity policy is put in place) and the need to reduce risk and enhance image (which again may suggest that diversity policies may be too risky, and impact negatively on the image of the firm).

Although this sample of research might appear in conflict with one another, I think together they show us the extent to the problem, and their possible solutions: namely, schools need to do more to build up the educational achievements of young people from low income backgrounds, Russell Group universities need to do more to ensure young people from low income backgrounds with comparable qualifications as their better-off peers are admitted, and that professional institutions curb discrimination based upon social class.

When it comes to continued British elitism there is a broad sweep of problems at play, and we should be clear that the buck doesn’t just stop at one door. Schools, universities, and leading firms all have a part to play in continued social class discrimination.

Carl Packman is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

41 Responses to “Elitism and social discrimination persist, but what is to blame?”

  1. Leon Wolfeson

    “the proportion of people who went to fee-paying schools”

    The article really needs to include that percentage compared to the general population to put the other figures you quote into proper perspective.

    And you also need to remember there is no basically no personal financial reason to attend University in the UK….unless you’re going into the city, etc.

  2. GhostofJimMorrison

    I go to university. I have no intention of going to ‘the city’ whatsoever. There is a world beyond London, Leon, and one can have a graduate career outside the world of banking/finance. Stop talking rubbish.

  3. Leon Wolfeson

    That’s nice. I was stating a fact.

    You will not, yourself, economically benefit, if you stay in the UK and pay the interest on the 9k fees, because of the low graduate premium paid in the UK, you’d have been financially better working those three years across your entire career.

    Oh, unless you’ve paid them up front. So, what do you study? PPE?

  4. GhostofJimMorrison

    You really are a silly boy, Wolfey.

  5. Newsbot09

    Ah yes, keep discouraging the poor from education so you can keep wages down and exploit British workers. Your lies are obvious.

  6. Leon Wolfeson

    Nope, I don’t have your agenda. I am talking straight facts, period,
    No, I *oppose the current fee system*.

    (I also teach at University level…you’ll find little support for the current fees there)

    Oh, and hi LordBlagger.

  7. Leon Wolfeson

    Facts are silly to you now? Okay, definitely PPE.

  8. Newsbot09

    Yes yes, keep trying to deny your diversive agenda of course, you’ve already said education is pointless for any of us outside your 1%.

  9. David Stringer

    It’s a “fact” that there’s no personal financial reason to attend university? Despite lots of companies insisting on a graduate degree of some sort before hiring? And that university courses generally offer a strong opportunity for networking and developing networking skills?

    Even aside from learning and developing skills in the classroom, there are clear benefits to a university education.

  10. Leon Wolfeson

    Thanks, LordBlagger, as you invent things again. That’s *your* view, I’ll remember it.

  11. Leon Wolfeson

    Yes. And yes, this is despite graduate-only roles because of the fact there’s a very very low graduate premium in this country.

    There are indeed benefits. But they’re not fiscal, for the person involved, at this time (It still benefits the overall economy, of course).

    That’s why I oppose the current fee structure.

  12. Newsbot09

    Your straw man tactics are rejected here, shill. Yes, keep trying to backtrack from your elitism and separatism. Your ideology was made clear in your first post.

  13. Leon Wolfeson

    Yes, thanks for admitting that my “ideology” – facts – are magically transformed into your world into shilling, elitism and separatism. Your view of facts!

    (Oh, and useful comparisons, let’s not forget those, you can’t abide those either can you!)

    LordBlagger, you are obvious. And you’re not trying to burn straw men, you’re trying to burn people. And to, in a very immature and silly way, to “burn” me in your upper-class schoolkid mentality.

    You’re simply chanting words I’ve previously used without understanding them.

  14. GhostofJimMorrison

    You DO NOT teach at University, Wolfey; enough of your silly lies now. Why make up silly lies?

  15. Guest

    Haha…so you finally recognised yourself! I think I got your language and phraseology spot-on. Your overall tone was a little more difficult to replicate though: absurd assertions, hysterical, accusatory terminology and fruitcake mindset. But that’s how you come across on this site. I wonder if it’s deliberate. Intriguing really, because it undermines the credibility of your otherwise well-informed posts. Perhaps it’s the confrontation you relish. Anyway, it was simply an exercise to illustrate to you how others see you here.

    Incidentally, out of fairness to lordblagger, whoever he is, I should make it clear I’m not he.

  16. Leon Wolfeson

    I don’t need to, unlike you. You keep spamming your hate spam against me simply because I’m Jewish.

    I am quite willing to prove to the LFF mods I teach at Universities, of course.

  17. Leon Wolfeson

    No, SlandererofJimMorrison, I spotted you straight off, for the mindless placement of words based directly on your bitter and personal hated of me as a Jew, and your personal hate for me for being Jewish, rather than anything which was typed.

    You managed to spew bigoted crap, no more, as you don’t understand why I say things, or why I happen to actually stand up for people, rather than -as you do – simply hate on me for being Jewish.

    You simply show what YOU espouse – “absurd assertions, hysterical, accusatory terminology and fruitcake mindset.”

    This is what YOU stand for, what YOU believe in, and what YOU carry forward as a champion for your far right. You have simply shown your views, via your spam, to the world.

    And no, even if you have multiple personalities, you are still one person.

  18. GhostofJimMorrison

    Haha, guess again, Wolfey. I’m not Newsbot09, or lordblagger. Having a taste of your own medicine, are we? Not nice is it. Silly boy.

  19. GhostofJimMorrison

    Haha, well played. But you’re right that old Wolfey is clearly an intelligent chap, but seems to enjoy getting a reaction from people. My guess is he’s not getting enough sexy time 🙂

  20. GhostofJimMorrison

    Yes, please provide me with proof asap. I’m serious, show me.

  21. Leon Wolfeson

    Look, LordBlagger, I’m not interested in your attempts to poison me, then claim it’s “my” poison. No, you’re just a poisoner, spewing Jewhate.

  22. Leon Wolfeson

    So you’re claiming to me a mod at LFF.

    Are you (provide proof), or are you just trying to find my personal details so you can try and attack me in person?

  23. swat

    We need to know how many of MPs have had previous family Members as MPs.
    Publish the figures now. Its elitism and nepotism and jobs for the boys galore.
    The Establishment continues to rule.

  24. GhostofJimMorrison

    Oh Wolfey lighten up and just be nice, for once. I don’t care what you do. I just enjoy winding you up 🙂

  25. Leon Wolfeson

    Why would I be nice to an attack dog?

  26. GhostofJimMorrison

    To stop it from biting your balls off? I dunno, Wolfey. Besides, I’m not attacking you; I just don’t like you and the often unintelligible crap you come out with. You’re pompous, arrogant, self-righteous and downright obnoxious at times. You make ignorant, sweeping accusations and attack anyone who dares to express views which don’t match your own. In short, I think you’re a bully and a wanker, and I will continue to ‘attack’ you until you lighten up.

  27. Leon Wolfeson

    No, that just gets you bitten anyway.

    You *are* attacking, as you do right there. You list a laundry list of your problems, screaming that your extremist views must not be challenged.

    You’re a troll here to suppress discussion, to push your far right agenda and to try and silence me. You are the bully here, and I am quite sure you’d go after me IRL at this point if you had the chance.

    You’re a *rabid* attack dog. Trying to silence me.

  28. Kryten2k35

    I think we’ve talked about this before. There are plenty of graduate jobs that make it worth while to have studied at University, even with the £9k fees (if you remember, though, I’m still locked into pre-2011’s rates, as we discussed).

    For instance, a good Java and Ruby developer can be earning upwards of £42k a year, jobs they only really give to graduates.

    And, you ignore the fact that student loan repayments are not crippling. They do not affect your credit rating. They can be considered “good debt” because of that fact. They do not stop you getting a mortgage, or leaving the country.

    That said, I do not support the current fee system. University should be free for everyone. But, to say that going to University doesn’t financially reward graduates is only a half truth, and the half that’s true isn’t true to what you said (it’s only bad for people who get poor degrees and thus waste their time).

  29. Leon Wolfeson

    No, there are not. Politics, City finance, a couple of Engineering specialities, Doctor. That’s it, per the salary statistics.

    Those software devs would still be better working their way up, especially given the software industry does not generally have graduate-only positions outside the largest companies, and ability (and portfolio) is far more important than qualifications.

    (What I work in is half IT, I see this on a routine basis)

    And student loans are still offset against income, so it’s not accurate to say that they stop you getting mortgages, especially with the very restricted supply of those today.

    You are making *some* excuses for a very poor system which financially fails 98%+ of graduates. You don’t see it as “crippling”, but poorer people have disagreed (even at 3.3k fees).

  30. Kryten2k35

    I have two friends who were on the same course. One dropped out in the second year to work a £22k job. The other finished his degree and started a £32k job. The job he got was only available to graduates, because they were looking for people with a specific skill set and who can commit themselves to something and work projects to completion. The graduate has now earnt £64k, whereas the non-graduate has earnt £44k.

    I’m not making excuses for the system, I just find it deplorable that you would advise someone not to go to University to better their education and employment prospects.

    My friend works in finance, specifically mortgages, student finance barely factors into 90% of mortgages. The repayment is 6% of earnings over £20k. It only really begins to factor into people earning £30k, and even then it’s barely a thing, because repayments on people £30k are about £50pm. It hardly matters to mortgage lenders.

    University SHOULD be free, but to suggest attending is pointless is wreckless, irresponsible and outright pathetic.

  31. Leon Wolfeson

    No, *financially* it’s the cold, hard statistical truth. Why would I believe your disclaimer about free, really?

    The data’s there, and your anecdote – bluntly – doesn’t matter. Most jobs would offer 24-25k to the Graduate…3 years difference in that, plus repayments…

    And no, repayment is 9% over 21k…and when mortgage availability is so low, yes, it’s significant. (Moreover, years of earnings is a factor too!). There’s 5.5% interest, too.

  32. Kryten2k35

    Financially, you’re talking bullshit. Without a degree in the field I’m pursuing, I wouldn’t be earning, in 10 years, that which I can earn off the bat.

    Leaving University with skills in PHP, Ruby, Javascript SASS, C#, .NET, C++, Java, Oracle, MyISAM, MySQL, PostgreSQL, etc etc and a degree that featured two years of advanced computational mathematics puts me in line for a lot more jobs than if I had just left college with a BTEC.

    FACT: My college qualifications had jobs starting at £16k a year. Topping off at £28k
    FACT: My University degree has jobs starting at £24k a year, topping off at £80k a year

    And what I said was right, but I’ll take your word that it has since changed since I started University.

    Fact is, you’re a cunt if you want to try and make people feel bad for having gone to University, trying to tell them they’ll be financially worse off, when in fact, they won’t.

  33. Leon Wolfeson

    What matters in that area is very much skills, the degree is a side issue for 99%+ of jobs

    (excepting some in banks and aerospace etc. where you need to be able to *prove* formal models, for which a degree is required, but those are an exception and in many cases don’t even pay that well!)

    There are non-wage reasons to go to University, but the key here is that the funding system needs to be changed, radically.

    Not defended frantically. And not calling people’s cunts for telling the truth – we have a terribly low graduate premium and a terrible university funding system.

    Most graduates WILL be worse off. That’s afaik unacceptable, and must be *changed*. When they benefit the economy as a whole. Otherwise, we’re going to see either lots of graduates going abroad, or isolationism.

  34. Kryten2k35

    No, they won’t be worse off, but I know better than to bother arguing with you.

  35. Keith M

    If we are to create a level playing field we need to abolish private schools and academies and return education to democratically elected local control. Additional funds should be allocated to the most deprived areas. In short a socialist education policy.

  36. John

    I am, my friends are. Many of my classmates are.
    I studied politics (my first mistake) and all of those I’m in touch with are frustrated at how they incurred so much debt to end a couple of thousand pounds behind those who quit at A-level 8-9 years after leaving uni

  37. Kryten2k35

    Studying something useful would’ve been a better move, though, surely?

    People leaving school with a-levels or BTECs will get lower paid jobs and progress upwards and, sure, be paid more than you are when you graduate, but as you identify, you’re a”couple of thousnad” behind. Graduate pay increases much more than not.

  38. John

    Assuredly studying something more usefull would’ve been more practical. But I had been told, repeatedly, that ‘going to uni and getting a degree would set you up for life’. More or less in those words, by all my family and teachers

    And they were right when they were my age.

    But today? Nope. Not ANY degree will do. You could say I was stupid and I won’t argue, but lots of people out there are making the same mistake, believing the same lies (though they aren’t told maliciously) and shackling themselves to a great deal of debt for nothing.

    Unless you get a 2:1 (increasingly difficult with the increasing numbers of students) your degree won’t garuntee you a graduate job.

    No graduate job, no graduate position. So graduate pay completely irrelevant. When you DO get a graduate post not all will scale as well as some vocational degrees. Such as plumbing, or electrician. I work as an accountant now (a position I got despite, not because of, my degree. If I had told my boss I was a graduate he wouldn’t have offered me the job as he told me not long ago: graduates are apparently lazy and arrogant) and do the books of a number of tradesman. They earn more at my age than I’ll expect to earn in 10 years (I’ll be 40).

    Because I’m years behind.

  39. Kryten2k35

    I’d be hard pressed to get a job in my chosen field without a degree (I’m studying computer science).

    Getting a degree doesn’t even guarantee you a graduate job, it just opens that door that is otherwise closed. Any employer would hire someone without a degree if they had the experience and skills, which is why many Universities are hammering their placement year programs into students.

    Your boss sounds like an asshole, also, but knowing some accountants myself, who studied to become, I can imagine where he gets that they’re arrogant and lazy.

    Some degrees you just cannot eek your way though. Computer Games Programming and Computer Games Design, Computer Science, Biochemistry, Mathematics and Physics, to name a few.

  40. John

    I agree, but too many are (still) taught that getting ‘a’ degree, any degree, is enough to set you up in life.

    It’s just not true anymore.

    For some, indeed I suspect for many, a more vocational route is not just easier, but also will earn them more. Short, mid AND long-term.

    The automatic assumption that university is best is one that we MUST combat and overcome. For many, it is not.

  41. Intolerant_Liberal

    The biggest problem is that there is a refusal, for obvious reasons, of those who benefit the most from elitist attitudes and middle and upper class privileges that their advantages in life help create poverty for those who have few or no social advantages. Then when these things fester, the people doing the commenting on the ‘underclass’, the ‘feckless’ are, surprise surprise, educated and affluent and privileged middle class people, pontificating from privileged positions on the causes of poverty.
    We live in a democracy. We need to talk about all these issues that divide us and separate into the haves and have nots, the privileged and non privileged. This debate won’t come from the comfy middle and upper class, it will come from the great mass of us not wealthy, or connected, privately educated and privileged.
    I sense that most of these posts from websites such as this are merely saying what most of us already know anyway, under the pretence that they care about the marginalised and disenfranchised poor that are growing in numbers in the UK. Racism seems to have been tackled, at least as a talking point amongst the concerned privileged liberals, but class discrimination remains the biggest elephant in the room in English society, and all the hypocrisy and divisiveness, particularly the growing economic divides fostered by both left and right mainstream political parties. In courting middle England, and abandoning working class people and the poor, and that includes black and Asian people, this society has sowed the seeds for a society like America, where a tiny elite own and control everything, a completely servile and toadying middle class brown nosing their superiors to get on, and a mass of poor people at the bottom encouraged to compete for low paid jobs at the bottom. That is the REAL agenda now. Wake up and smell the coffee. If you can afford it.

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