Students with regional accents ‘ridiculed and silenced’

Call for universities to stamp out 'last acceptable' form of discrimination

July 25, 2016
Audience quiet sign
Source: Alamy

Students with regional accents face ridicule and feel marginalised in UK universities, a conference has heard.

The annual conference of access charity The Brilliant Club, held in Stoke-on-Trent, heard that prejudice towards people with strong accents is the last “acceptable form” of discrimination, and that universities should do more to tackle it.

Katie Edwards, director of the Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Bible Studies, said that people with regional accents are frequently regarded as being “rough” or “common”.

She said that she had faced mockery for her Yorkshire pronunciation as a student and even now is urged to tone down her speech.

Students with strong accents are less likely to contribute in seminars and are more likely to drop out, said Dr Edwards, who claimed that universities dismissed this type of prejudice as a “non-issue”.

“Why is this OK? It’s almost an acceptable form [of discrimination],” Dr Edwards said. “People can say it without very much being said [against it] in a way that, if [it were] discrimination about other aspects of would not be allowed.”

Beccy Earnshaw, director of Voice 21, a campaign to get speaking skills taught in all state schools, said that arriving at university can be a disorienting experience for some teenagers with regional accents, especially those from poorer backgrounds.

“You were probably one of the strongest speakers in your school, one of the people most likely to contribute, and you get to university and you’re sat in a room [of people] who are so much more confident than you and speak in a way that you don’t speak,” Ms Earnshaw said. “You spend a good two terms building your confidence back up to be able to participate.”

But Faye Raw, a recruitment manager at BCS Consulting, questioned whether regional accents remain a significant barrier to higher education and employment.

“We have moved on, I think, from accent acting as such a social marker, and in some cases I see those with a plummier accent… actually not doing as well as a result,” she said. “The plain-talking Northerner, in some cases, does triumph.”

Ms Raw said that the problem is that some young people, regardless of where they come from, lack the clarity of speech, the projection, and the talent for structuring an argument necessary to be successful.

She agreed with Ms Earnshaw that much more needs to be done to improve school pupils’ speaking skills, but Dr Edwards argued that universities need policies in place, too, to prevent discrimination.

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 6 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

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Director of Strategic Marketing HENLEY BUSINESS SCHOOL
Business Development Economist UNIVERSITY OF GREENWICH
Lecturer in Optical Communications and Networks UNIVERSITY OF BRISTOL (MAIN OFFICE)

Most Commented

University of Oxford students walking on campus

University of Oxford snatches top spot from Caltech in this year’s World University Rankings as Asia’s rise continues

Home secretary says government will support 'best' universities

Man handing microphone to audience member

Academic attainment of disadvantaged students can be improved if they can decide how they are assessed, study claims

Italy's gold medallist

New measures to ensure universities are ‘not penalised’ for taking poorer students also outlined for next stage of TEF

Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir meeting over coffee

Claims for genius require more than repeated assertion to make the case, says Martin Cohen