The right spits venom at talk of class, except to sneer at middle-class leftists, but avoids hard facts: a working-class child is 15 times less likely to move upwards than a middle-class child is to stay put. This is no classless society, but a society whose politics conspire to deny it.Right on cue,
Cambridge today will condemn attempts to force elite universities to recruit more pupils from state schools and disadvantaged backgrounds.If they are not to embrace social justice, does that mean they prefer social injustice, or are they just indifferent to the fate of their country? I have no doubt that elite universities recruit some highly able students, but they also have the Hooray Henries for whom the social ambience is more important than academic achievement. Even if we started punting on the Humber, they wouldn't come to Hull. Educational inequality and achievement are not the only issues that matter to widening participation, this culture also excludes; the casual acceptance of privilege does not come naturally to those who have none.
In a robust attack on government “meddling”, Alison Richard, the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University, will say that universities are not “engines for promoting social justice”.
Of course, the fact that elite universities recruit disproportionate numbers of students from public schools is purely down to the fact that there are public schools for them to recruit from. Though 'top' universities remain bastions of privilege, they are at the apex of a system of inequality, and in some ways I have a little sympathy with their resentment at the tokenism implicit in the actions of a government that is so unwilling to even talk about equality, let alone develop an egalitarian model of political economy. It is hard to see that getting a few more middle class kids from state schools into Oxbridge is going to change the world. However, any sympathy dissolves when I see their resistance to self-examination and determination to hide behind a myth of meritocracy, a pretence at classlessness and a belief that education is somehow socially neutral.
My work over the last twenty-five years has brought me into contact with many of those who had been initially excluded; fantastically talented, hard working, wonderful students. Good people all and some are still good friends. By holding fast to their elitist values, Universities are excluding the best for the sake of the mediocre. They don't know what they are missing. Mind you, some of the students I have known would shake them up a bit. And boy do they need it.