Working-class scholars feel the bite of class
In his opinion article “Class is no barrier” (30 May), Thomas Boysen Anker describes his path from a working-class background into academia and argues that there are no special disadvantages facing blue-collar scholars.
We congratulate him on his achievements. However, from the responses we have received, there is a need to help support academics from working-class backgrounds and those hoping to enter academia, as well as to provide visible evidence of success to working-class students.
The establishment of the Association of Working Class Academics has been warmly appreciated. Even within the pages of Times Higher Education , accounts have been published anonymously because some fear that their openness about their identity will impede their careers. Hence, there is clearly a challenge for academia when many who come from working-class backgrounds feel that they cannot be open about a vital and valued part of their identity.
That some have not suffered any impediments is obviously welcome. There are also women who regard themselves as never having suffered gender discrimination, but this does not mean that there ought not to be support for those who have.
The Association of Working Class Academics has been established to be supportive, and if Anker would like to join and support and advise those whose experiences of academia differ from his, he would be most welcome.
Geraldine Van Bueren, chair
Craig Johnston, vice-chair
Carole Binns, Paul Craddock and Teresa Crew
The Association of Working Class Academics
As an academic with a working-class background, I strongly disagree with some of Anker’s article. I have witnessed far too many people get jobs and positions because of their connections rather than their talents.
There are disadvantages to being a working-class academic, and these should not be glossed over. I know of one individual who was told to change their accent (a northern one, often associated with the working class) because it made them sound less intelligent.
Marketing might be different, but within the hard sciences being a working-class academic is no advantage. Having said that, I do agree that the work ethic of those from a working-class background can be a great advantage.
When academics discuss student assessment, the argument I hear time and again is that “students need to know this stuff and must prove that they know it via an essay-based exam” or “they need to produce a chunky piece of writing to really get into the detail” (“Time to get real”, Features, 23 May). And so it is that most undergraduate students (in the sciences, at least) come out able to ramble on spectacularly in research papers that take 12 pages to get anywhere resembling a point, but they still use Google for the actual knowledge and are unable to write concisely to convey an important point.
Nevertheless, module/unit leaders are all too often unwilling to budge as to the importance of “their” assessment, failing to properly consider the bigger picture and reflect on how the ways in which we access knowledge have changed dramatically, compared with even the 1990s. To declare that ostensibly innovative ideas are but rehashed versions of old ones is a nonsense counterpoint to change. True, they might not be “new”, but they might work better now because, compared with when they were first attempted, the sector, the students and the technology are so vastly different: you might as well be dismissing using a mobile phone because the experience of using one in the 1980s was poor.
I now run an online open-book, unseen exam in the final year to try to better mimic the expectations, the environment and the means that graduates might experience in the workplace – and it makes marking and feedback so much easier.
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