You can never go home again

August 11, 2016

Ryan Coogan’s eloquent description of the alienating experiences of returning to his home working-class community in Salford after progressing from undergraduate to PhD study made long-healed scars of my own start to throb again (“Not for you: what ‘experts’ debate tells the working class”, Opinion, 4 August). And that, for me, points to the serious issues raised by this highly pertinent piece.

My experiences took place during the 1970s. The roots of the alienation of many working-class people from the idea of going to university rather than getting a “proper job” – let alone staying at university for several years after graduating with your BA/BSc – lie in structural inequalities that remain generation after generation. This is the simple answer as to why Coogan’s description of his experiences almost exactly matches my own roughly 40 years earlier.

If this is true, is it the case that “the label ‘working-class academic’ will become a contradiction in terms”, as Coogan fears? As he hopes, there are likely to always be individuals prepared to go against this grain (and they should be supported in this hard endeavour) but however much we are successful in increasing the number of these “mavericks”, we will never produce the seismic shift needed so that this is not how they are seen. It’s time we stopped individualising this essentially structural feature of our society and got down to some radical rethinking of educational and related social policies.

Stuart Billingham
Professor emeritus of lifelong learning


Send to

Letters should be sent to: THE.Letters@tesglobal.com
Letters for publication in Times Higher Education should arrive by 9am Monday.
View terms and conditions.

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

Daniel Mitchell illustration (29 June 2017)

Academics who think they can do the work of professional staff better than professional staff themselves are not showing the kind of respect they expect from others

As the pay of BBC on-air talent is revealed, one academic comes clean about his salary

Senior academics at Teesside University put at risk of redundancy as summer break gets under way

Capsized woman and boat

Early career academics can be left to sink or swim when navigating the choppy waters of learning scholarly writing. Helen Sword says a more formal, communal approach can help everyone, especially women

Thorns and butterflies

Conditions that undermine the notion of scholarly vocation – relentless work, ubiquitous bureaucracy – can cause academics acute distress and spur them to quit, says Ruth Barcan