So universities should brand the socially suspect now, should they?

One of the little things about Stalin’s Russia – Soviet Union if you prefer – was the manner in which your social origins followed you through the system. Children of the bourgeois were deliberately overlooked for such things as university places, those entry portals into the professional classes. True sons of the proletariat were identified and promoted.

Some people seem to be taking Stalinist policies as a guide book, not a warning:

Universities should introduce “privilege flags” so admissions tutors know when students are from affluent backgrounds, it has been suggested.

Dr Rachel Carr OBE, chief executive of IntoUniversity, a charity that raises aspiration among underprivileged children, said this would allow institutions to see who has had a “better start” in life.

“Lots of universities already use participation flags to identify students,” she said. “How about we also use ‘privilege flags’ so we can see the students who already have a much better start and a much better likelihood of success.”

This would not apply to people of proven social value of course – Tony Benn’s grandchildren say, now the fifth – or is it sixth – generation of those to wibble about progressive politics and the necessity of overthrowing inherited privilege. I can’t actually recall Hilary Benn’s antecedents. Was he a third or fourth generation Cabinet Minister? Forth or fifth generation MP?

Can’t say I’m enamoured of such a system, to be honest. Neither the Stalinism nor the Benns.

21 thoughts on “So universities should brand the socially suspect now, should they?”

  1. How long will it take the sharp elbowed middle classes to game the new rules; about a term, tops.

  2. My daughter and her partner (the Scotsman as we call him) are both doing a teaching degree. Their last assignment was about how their life experiences will inform their teaching. He was able to write of his experiences as a Protestant attending a Catholic school in Glasgow and got himself an HD. Our daughter only got a D and moaned to us that we’d made her life far to easy, thereby giving her nothing to work with.

  3. This is just terrible. How are those second or third generation, dim as fuck, Oxbridge graduates supposed to get their even dimmer as fuck children into their old colleges? The country will be bereft of politicians.

  4. I really do wonder about this “underprivileged kids going to university” thing.

    Here’s my thinking: a lot of Olivers and Jocastas are basically wanking around with Daddy’s money for 3 years, doing a degree in English, Photography or History, sending their families back to clogs in 2 generations. And that’s absolutely fine. I’d rather they stumped up for their own tuition for this wankery. But encouraging poor kids to do this is just bad.

  5. Dissapointed there was nothing from the journo trying to uncover the underlying rationale of this.

    Ok there’s an efficiency argument to be made if the filter is on the achievements of the parents not on the abilty of the candidate. It would have been nice to have that articulated than assume we’re all on that page but ok then comes the problem. We’re not talking blank slates, we’re talking 18 year old adults and finding the best ones to go to the best univerities. So by then isn’t the development that’s necessary to be in the top 1% to get into the best university already done. Howsowever those people got there, parents,grandparents, public library, inspirational social worker, its done. You can only say such and such markers the university use to filter are no good here’s some better ones but you’d better have the evidence.
    you could articulate that you don’t give a fig for who the best students are, you want to pluck some out of the pool and place them in the top university.

    obviously the first argument could be made by an educational charity the second argument by a political party and not a liberal one at that.

  6. The university as a tool to create a Marxist utopia.

    “How about we also use ‘privilege flags’ so we can see the students who already have a much better start and a much better likelihood of success.”

    Success isn’t earned, it comes from ‘privilege.’

    Universities hope to matriculate students into successful people, who will then CONTRIBUTE to their alma mater. So a student with ‘a much better likelihood of success’ is who they want. Though I’m sure there are CM run unis who will comply.

  7. “second or third generation, dim as fuck”: in many years of teaching at Cambridge the only “dim as fuck” student I encountered was an exchange student from MIT.

  8. The idea has some small possible merit: middle class Marxist agitator shite flags seem like a good idea –staff and student-pukes–ready for the purge.

  9. @ Hallowed Be
    By the time I was 9, not 18, it was *almost* predictable which kids would go to Oxbridge – almost, not quite, a really quiet type got into Oxford while the class swot went to Imperial College; the brightest girl in my year chose St Andrew’s because she was Scots.
    Education at Public Schools helped to prepare us for the entry exams but the result largely depended on inherited ability. The group of us who got scholarships to Public School and the group of us who went to Oxbridge/St Andrew’s were almost identical (I’ve no idea what happened to other girl who got a Scholarship).
    I am strongly in favour of giving a fair chance to poor bright children (hence I support Grammar Schools) but disqualifying anyone who has inherited ability from affluent parents in order to give places to less able persons from non-affluent backgrounds is *not* fair.

    Plucking some out of the pool and putting them in the top university is one way to end its term as the top university.

  10. Surely, those applicants who have already had a much better start and a much better likelihood of success are those with the higher entry grades. So they’re advocating *not* taking high-scoring applicants. “Three As? Sorry mate, that’s too much for us, try Teesside Poly.”

  11. It used to be that ‘equal opportunities’ was a thing. The idea was that, as far as possible, a level playing field was provided. This was intended to lead to a situation where your background didn’t matter, if you had what it takes you could achieve on your own merit. The problem with this idea is that hopeless losers are still hopeless losers and have unexpectedly become a barrier to us achieving equality utopia. So the answer is a handicap system similar to horse racing or golf.

  12. Bloke in North Dorset

    If you don’t measure a school’s performance how do you know if a bright pupil has been let down by a bad school or a poor pupil has been lifted by a good school?

    I’ll bet those supporting this policy are also against Ofstead.

  13. john 77- so if your mums hadn’t filled out the scholarship forms and you all underperformed in the exams, would you all have still had the potential at 18 to get the same course, the same college, the same degree?

  14. @ Hallowed Be
    That isn’t the point – the point is that those who weren’t naturally “gifted” didn’t get to Oxbridge despite being “privileged”.
    I am quite quite sure that Alan, a year older than I, would still have got into Trinity to read Maths if he had gone to Grammar school, Marion would still have gone to St Andrew’s. As to the rest of us I can’t be sure (William might have gone to Lincoln or Wadham instead of Balliol) but there were lots of guys from Grammar Schools who were less bright than us at Oxford in my time.

  15. We had a local family with three boys who were determined to get all of them to grammar school. They only ever had Look and Learn magazine with the comic section removed when growing up. They practiced the 11-plus all the time. Although not shining at primary school, they did indeed all get to grammar school, where they floundered, being unable to maintain the pace. Between the three of them they got one O-Level.

  16. john 77- “The point is that those who weren’t naturally “gifted” didn’t get to Oxbridge despite being “privileged”

    Ok…. yes accepted.

    Even so Rachel might have a point if there are naturals out there who’ve only had an average education that don’t make the grade at A level but somehow will catch up at Oxbridge. (i.e. gain the same grade or higher as those they displace).

    Would be nice if Rachel even explicitly makes that case but even better to prove it. The fact that they only hint at it avoids the need for proof. So more likely they have an objective of more xyz people getting in. They pick the brightest of those sure, encourage them to apply, give them a few tricks that help with marginal cases, get them into wider reading and broaden their experiences. But when they find the success is maginal they resort to campaigning for special admission rules. At least if journo got out of Rachel a “wasted talent” rationale the follow up question is, why not just identify the “brightest” naturals at 8 or 11 and give them top educations rather than leave them with the average one and try and fudge it. Or in other words what the independent sector and grammar schools already do.


  17. @ Hallowed Be
    Oxford has been trying for decades to attract the “naturally gifted” who haven’t had as good an education; first it tried setting lower minimums for ‘A’ levels for applicants from state schools with poor ‘A’ level performance, then massive publicity campaigns, now they have bursaries of up to 100% of fees and maintenance costs for poor students (as distinct from scholarships for clever ones), “ambassadors” going round state schools to encourage pupils to apply …
    It still has a lower %age of state school pupils than they did before the abolition of Grammar Schools.
    That Dr Carr chooses to say that it’s not to “deny” the flagged pupils a place shows that she thinks the remaining readers of “The Telegraph” are stupid – there is no other rational reason for doing so.
    I am not claiming that the 11+ was perfect: I know it wasn’t, just that Labour’s destruction of the Butler tri-partite system has made life significantly worse for working class boys.

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