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In a different class? Just work harder

A report published by The Sutton Trust has recently issued findings that suggest children from working class families are less likely to attend a top university, even when achieving the same grades as children from a more prestigious upbringing.

Throughout my childhood, my parents instilled a particular work ethic in me; if you work hard, you will be rewarded. My dad left school at 16 and worked his way up from kitchen porter to head chef, while my mum graduated secondary school and quickly transitioned into full time work in a local clothes shop, only cutting back her hours twice when having my brother and I. Though neither of my parents put great emphasis into their own academic career, they both were very clear that I could be or do whatever I wanted; in school or not.

It is true that when starting university applications, parents with experience are more useful to point their children in the right direction, help them with what to include and what to leave out, but a lot of students don’t get this luxury. Teachers at sixth forms are relied upon to check personal statements, and the responsibility of research into subjects and courses lies purely on the student themselves. My parents attended open days with me, but they didn’t ask any questions nor had any idea what was expected of them throughout the day, so I may as well have attended alone.

Dr John Jerrim, of the Institute of Education at the University of London, concluded this research that children of a less academic or professional upbringing were less likely to attend a Russell Group university overall, preferring to opt for a less prestigious institution. Now it can be said that either I, and many other people I know, are the exception to this rule, or Dr Jerrim has made quite a drastic assumption. Though all the people I know who go to Oxbridge come from academic and professional families, I think it’s maybe gone a little too far to say the same for Russell Group universities as a whole. Not only is it classist to assume that children from working class background won’t even want to attend one of the top universities, but it sends out a message that there is a class structure within higher education as well. About half of the students I have spoken to about this come from a professional or academic background, showing it’s quite a fair divide between the two, so I actively disagree with Dr Jerrim’s research.

One of my friends from home came from a family of teachers, one of whom was actually a headteacher. She was tutored by her parents, had her Ucas application checked over and over again by them and eventually gained three A*s and was accepted into Oxford University. However, another girl that I know was accepted into Cambridge and the only help she received was from her hairdresser and tree surgeon parents. Maybe it’s not the family? Maybe it’s the effort and dedication given by the student? If we start telling students what type of university they deserve based not on their grades, not on their personal preferences, not even on the student themselves, but that of the class and education of their family, well, I think society and education has reached a spectacular new low.

There is so much more to a uni than academia, there are domestic life skills, the ability to put yourself out there and make friends, and pushing yourself to achieve rather than having someone fight your battles for you, and these are all skills that are learn at every university up and down this country. For Dr Jerrim to publish these findings that specifically belittle non-Russell Group universities and also people from working class backgrounds, it seems to me to be not only discriminatory and unfair, but also in my experience completely untrue. Achieving a place in any university is something to be celebrated, not compared or belittled.

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