Is university entrance squeezing the middle class?
Reinventing the wheel often causes a flurry of headlines. This time (once again) it is about university entrance and the decision to have information about parents included on the University (UCAS) application form. The idea is that it will help to “widen access” if admissions’ tutors know what the potential student’s Mum and Dad do, and whether have been to university themselves.
Squeals of horror from the usual (middle class) suspects.
There is in fact nothing new at all here.
For a long time parental occupation was a question on the special Cambridge application form. Some years ago (I can’t remember exactly when) that question was abolished. The idea was, I think, that this information was encouraging us to discriminate AGAINST the under-privileged – as if we were sorting through the forms and picking out the ambassador’s daughter and chucking the postman’s daughter into the “reject” pile. Socially elite dons looking for students in their own image -- or so the paranoid fantasy went.
I always thought that it was actually working the other way round. Knowing more about where the kids were “coming from” really did help to judge their potential and make a more level playing field.
To put it another way, when I am interviewing a student who wants to come and read Classics, one thing I want to know is whether they have made the most of their opportunities to find out about the ancient world. And it all depends what those opportunities are. If, for example, a girl who has had several long Greek holidays has never once taken the trouble to visit an archaeological site or museum, I will have some qualms. If someone who has never left the country, but lives within a mile of Hadrian’s Wall and has never visited it – well, similar qualms are raised (but I wouldn't hold against them the fact that they had never seen the Parthenon).
The point is that we are looking for those, from whatever background, who have potential – and the capacity to benefit from the course. More information helps (particularly now that the school’s reference is open to the candidate and can be almost useless).
The middle classes really don’t need to worry. I am not looking to favour the stupid daughter of the postman over the clever daughter of the ambassador. I am looking for intellectual potential wherever it is found. Exactly as I have always done.