The only option left is to take our future into our own hands and reclaim our Education system

Inequality, an issue of poverty  

More students from ‘disadvantaged backgrounds’ are dropping out or leaving with record levels of eye-watering debt. And university applications are down by 4% this year. News that Universities UK are calling for an investigation into the costs facing poorer students is a sign they are listening. But this doesn’t go far enough.

These problems are not isolated to just universities, they go far beyond. The gap between the better off and the least well off is growing. The UK is one of the most unequal countries in the world according to Oxfam. 10% of the UK population own over half of the country's total wealth, the top 1% owning nearly a quarter (23%). The poorest 20% share just 0.8%.

There are 4 million children living in poverty. Homelessness has risen by 134%, there are 73% more children homeless since 2010. Nine pupils in every classroom of 30 are officially poor. Footage on ITV news last week shocked many, as the reality in the UK was laid bare. Schools washing the school uniforms of students. Parents passing out due to hunger. Schools taking parents to foodbanks. Schools giving out shoes and coats. A return of rickets due to malnourishment. This is the UK in 2017.

Class and Higher Education

Universities must adjust to what is going on in society. Consider the role they play within it and acknowledge the influence they have.

Society is not a level playing field, we have to dismiss the idea that universities are equalizers. They are not. An A grade from a state comprehensive is currently of equal value to an A grade from a private school. The evidence offered by the ITV clip is that they are far from equivalent. Yet the poorest students still pay the same tuition fees as the wealthiest students and often the same level or type of support.

“I remember I shared a room to save money because it was so expensive to go to university in Bristol and the first thing my roommate said, before she’d even asked my name, I opened the door and she said where did you board? I didn’t go to boarding school. At that point, she decided that she didn’t want to be friends with me.”

Educating All is built from the resilience working-class students are forced to develop from experiences such as this. 

If you are a working-class student from Moss Side, (where RECLAIM began in 2007) who do you turn to for help? Often, no one. The educational pathway can be a journey filled with economic, cultural and social landmines that you must negotiate, from as early as primary school. And if you reach one of our ‘elite universities’ there is often snobbery and disdain, like the student at LSE who was told ‘poor people don’t come to this university’ by an academic.

As social mobility grinds to a halt, the mass waste of talent should be seen as a national crisis equal to any economic or political disaster. Education is society's foundation. It is also the gatekeeper, keeping working class people out of positions of power in which they can change the society they live in.

Universities and politicians must no longer offer up limp platitudes; uninspiring widening participation schemes, half-baked policy or empty statements that claim they are doing enough to encourage and support students from working-class backgrounds. The widening gaps in UK society illustrate that we can no longer rely on others. We must take action into our own hands to demand and work towards radical reform through programmes like Educating All.