What puts white working-class boys off university?

The Guardian has a report from Ipswich which, it suggests, helps explain why the government faces a challenge to persuade more boys to opt for higher education

Michael James is 13… His dad’s a lorry driver; Michael has decided he wants to be the first in his family to go to university…

“I think it’s a really good place to go,” he says, brimming with enthusiasm. “It’s high achieving. It makes it easier to get a job. I reckon it will help if I take a degree.” His family, however, are not so sure, he says. “They think it’s a waste of time because it costs a lot of money.”

…Michael and his classmates have been to a presentation by University Campus Suffolk (UCS), an Ipswich-based institution, which is partnered by the universities of East Anglia and Essex…

Nevertheless, one in the group says he wants to become a policeman and doesn’t see the point of university beforehand. “I don’t really fancy being in debt for most of my life,” says Connor Studd, 16… 

“I want to study science,” says Connor Macfarlane, 16. “I just feel university could be helpful in finding a job.” Kieran Edwards, 13, feels the same. “I want to further my education to improve my chances of getting a better job. I feel motivated,” he says. It would make him proud to be the first in his family to go on to higher education. The idea of debt doesn’t faze him – he’ll earn enough money to pay it off…

The boys’ enthusiasm is however gratifying for principal Craig D’Cunha, a graduate of the government’s Talented Leaders programme, which places top headteachers in challenging schools. He was hired a year ago after the school was deemed inadequate by Ofsted and put in special measures…

D’Cunha and his team are devoted to raising not only attainment, but pupils’ aspirations… 

“If parents have experienced what benefit going to university and having a degree has, they are more encouraged to send their children to do it,” says D’Cunha, who, like many of his pupils, was the first in his family to go to university…”

“The big barrier is the finance. We can say: ‘You have the potential to go to university’, but the bottom line is you are still asking children and parents in low-income families to take on a substantial debt.” Students won’t have to pay it back until they start making enough money, “but they still don’t like the idea of debt”, says D’Cunha. “That’s the real barrier.”

More at What puts white working-class boys off university?


The article, despite its title, doesn’t really give many insights into why working class boys are under-represented at university.

Craig D’Cunha says the real barrier is debt, but that doesn’t seem to be putting working class girls off, so it must surely be a bit more complex than that?

Maybe there’s a hint of perception amongst some boys that education in general and higher education in particular is more of a girls thing these days?

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  1. Why are working class boys less likely to go to uni?  Perhaps it’s because they’re increasingly told the working class is something that any reasonable person would want to climb out of.  But it’s where they feel most comfortable and resent being judged as inferior because they would rather go straight to work.
    That’s only conjecture, of course, but perhaps someone should ask the boys this question.

  2. Dai_James1942

    SchoolsImprove 13 years of ritual obeisance to the earnest, bossy, lower-middle classes, while your mates mock you for it

  3. TW

    Perhaps they suppose that any job that actually has any sort of requirement for a degree is most likely to be given to anyone except English working class boys.  Except possibly teaching but not everyone wants or would be suitable for that.

  4. jeografy

    Same thing that put them of school!
    Laziness, apathy, and they and their parents not valuing #education

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