'Working-class' law suits

May 2, 2013

The stubborn narrative about the “best” universities remains pervasive in the public consciousness. In “Posh spice up CVs to gain edge at post-92s” (News, 11 April), you report on research that will be published as “Higher education, social class and the mobilisation of capitals: recognising and playing the game”, a paper in the British Journal of Sociology of Education’s September edition. You further encourage this narrative by focusing on a minority of the University of the West of England students who felt “out of place”. Yet the student cited in the article is also quoted in the research as saying: “Now I’m here I’m really happy with the department.”

The research highlights how students are being encouraged to choose a university based on brand status rather than on the criteria that would best enable them to reach their potential. For example, it highlights a high-achieving working-class student who chose a certain university because he believed that its brand would help him secure a City job. He later found that his degree did not secure graduate success because the course failed to offer the work experience demanded by employers.

When students go to university they are making life-changing decisions about their future. They should always be encouraged to make these decisions based on a wide range of factors - teaching, research, employment opportunities, etc - not just on the basis of mission group status. For example, at UWE, satisfaction rates for law (the course cited in your article) are rated at 91 per cent, with 85 per cent going on to work or further study within six months of finishing their courses.

We need to stop focusing on some imagined idea about the “best” universities and help all students - through comprehensive and impartial information - to make informed choices about the best opportunities for them.

Steve West
Chair of the University Alliance
Vice-chancellor of UWE


I am puzzled by the idea that UWE is a “working-class” institution in comparison with the University of Bristol (“Posh spice up CVs to gain edge at post-92s”; “Middle class? Moi?”, The Poppletonian, 18 April).

As a former lecturer at UWE (including when it was Bristol Polytechnic), it always seemed pretty posh to me. Indeed, relatively speaking, most of the higher education institutions within the South West attract fairly “classy” students as there is a regional “class attraction” factor at work here, too.

I do not think the differences between the two universities are that great. If the research covered by the articles really wanted to bring out the differences between traditional and new universities, I would have imagined a North-based comparison would have worked better.

Are UWE graduates Samantha Cameron, Miranda Hart, Bear Grylls and Dominic Waghorn “working class”? What about its associate college, the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School? And is there really such a difference between Bristol and UWE, particularly compared with the likes of the University of Poppleton?

Indeed, the relationship between UWE and Bristol has always been rather fluid: for example, the former’s School of Architecture was originally part of the latter. And there are various joint research departments involving both institutions, such as the cutting-edge Bristol Robotics Laboratory. So which is “posh” and which is “common”?

How does one define “working class”? Perhaps it is anyone who has not been to public school or a Russell Group university who is not upon graduation invited to join the highest level of City law firms. Is everyone else, be they lawyer, chartered surveyor, architect, accountant, high-level scientist or internationally recognised academic, part of the lumpenproletariat?

Clara Greed
Emerita professor of inclusive urban planning
Department of architecture and planning

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