Working-class scholars still feel social divide
Socio-economic groups are rarely high among the self-definitions to which people cling in the 21st-century era of identity politics. Consequently, while universities are often prodded to widen participation at undergraduate levels, the proportion of people from poor backgrounds at postgraduate and faculty levels typically receives much less attention than the representation, say, of women or people from ethnic minorities.
Nevertheless, an academic career arguably remains as remote an aspiration as it has ever been for working-class academics. That is because even if, against all the odds, they excel at school and – perhaps via a widening participation initiative – find their way to a top university, they must still negotiate an alien, emphatically middle-class cultural setting, not to mention sustain themselves during the various periods of low or no income that early career academics typically have to endure.
Here, five academics from poor backgrounds describe the barriers – often invisible to their more affluent peers – that they have had to negotiate. Institutions that pride themselves on their supposed inclusivity and that aim to maximise their academic performance would perhaps do well to take such tales to heart. Greater efforts to access the large, under-fished talent pools hidden away in less fashionable postcodes might just land them a richer catch.