Gender is the real problem

December 4, 2008

I was struck by the juxtaposition of two items in the Times Higher Education of November. First, there was the article about class snobbery in higher education ("It's right posh in t'common room, innit?"). Then there was the People section, which happened to feature myself, noting my appointment as a chair in sociology at the University of Hull.

This is notable because I hail from a working-class and minority-ethnic background and speak with a pronounced regional accent to boot (having been born and raised in South Wales). I was appointed to a chair at the age of 39, less than a decade after completing my PhD at a redbrick university.

In my experience, most universities and their staff are remarkably unconcerned with matters of social class when it comes to relating to colleagues or judging academics' achievements. This may well not hold true for Oxbridge, where like seems to attract like, but among the vast majority of higher education institutions, class appears to no longer be a barrier to achievement.

In contrast, women struggle constantly to make their mark and get their due recognition, and academics hailing from outside the UK are often met with discriminatory attitudes from students about their "funny accents". It is these latter problems, rather than those of class background, that should provide the focus of attention for those wishing to create an inclusive and non-discriminatory academic environment in the UK.

Majid Yar, Professor of sociology University of Hull.

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