The out­siders

Work­ing-class schol­ars still feel so­cial di­vide

THE (Times Higher Education) - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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