Does Academia Fuel Elitism?

By Adam Walker, Economics Correspondent

Jobs, Education, Elitism

Since the financial crisis hit in 2007 there has been a great deal of debate concerning the culture of big business capitalism and the demonisation of the financial industry.

The elitism associated with the banking industry, coupled with accusations of political bias, immunity from punitive action and excessive bonus schemes has been the main target of people’s anger, many claiming that the financial sector is out of control when compared with other industries.

However, are these factors the root cause of the issues facing our society, or are they symptoms of a more deeply rooted behaviour instilled at a younger age?

Early Childhood and Elitist Culture

Elitism has had a role to play throughout history, with some individuals gaining better opportunities, offered more enriching lifestyles and reaping greater rewards from circumstances that the majority are excluded from. One area where this has been, and still is, the case is education, where the name of the school/university on your CV dramatically changes your prospects with an employer.

Phillip Benton, Joe Mellor and I have all written articles concerning the varying effects of education and higher education on our society. In Joe Mellor’s article, “Major Wages war with Eton Rifles” , he discussed the fact that many of the most powerful figures in politics attended the same elite educational establishments. Eton, Oxford and Cambridge are all familiar names on the résumés of the UK’s rich and powerful, an indication of the level of influence these establishments have on our prospects regardless of talent or intellect.

The same theory is true of low-income families who, through sheer lack of options, will be sending their children to schools that do not offer the opportunities available in the higher echelons of the educational ladder. Despite intellectual prowess these students will be limited by their school’s name and reputation, reducing their choices from secondary school through to their university choice and, as a result, their job prospects upon leaving.

Elitism, it would seem, is innate in the education sector.

Is Academic Elitism “Justified”?

Although this would not excuse such behaviour, a quantifiable return that exceeds other schools would in some ways show a degree of justification behind only accepting the best students from the best schools. If universities, such as Oxford and Cambridge, provide outstanding job prospects for those that attend then surely their reasons for wanting to maintain such high standards are, in some ways, fair?

On the contrary. University of Oxford ranked second overall in the Complete University Guide 2014, yet ranked 12th for graduate prospects below the University of Glasgow, a university founded only 31 years ago. The University of Buckingham ranked second for graduate prospects and had a higher level of student satisfaction than Oxford, yet ranked 57th in the ‘Complete Guide’ due to low entry standards and reduced investment in research. This would seem to indicate that an academic establishment’s reputation is more important than what it actually delivers to its students.

So is it any surprise that this behaviour continues into later adult life and into the mind-set of those who run our political and financial institutions? We are educated with the idea that if you have the right names behind you, you are immune to market forces and cultural standards and so this is reflected in our actions.

Trapped By Our Own Perceptions

Academic excellence should be something to aspire to, and this is in no way a criticism of educational institutions that excel or students that succeed as a result of their education. However, people can be easily trapped in the system if they don’t – often by sheer virtue – secure the right names on their CV.

If we are to move forward as an economy and civilisation we must move past the concept of titles and “educational class” that still plagues the system to this day. Is it time for a re-evaluation of how our educational system works? Should we move away from red-brick establishments and offer greater acceptance and investment into the more modern and savvy polytechnic universities rising through the ranks?

If we’re to teach future generations anything, it should be that education is the key to success and not a barrier. As long as a person is judged on credentials that are often out of their hands, we will continue feeding a reproductive culture of elitism.

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