Race and class inequalities at elite universities unveiled in new study

BAME and less affluent students, as well as those who have not attended private school, often find themselves positioned as second- or third-class citizens within university institutions, a new study has revealed.

The results were published today by Martin Myers, Assistant Professor and Sociologist in the School of Education at the University of Nottingham, and Kalwant Bhopal, Professor of Education and Social Justice and Director of the Centre for Research on Race and Education at the University of Birmingham.

Based on interviews with students at four ‘elite universities’ in the UK and US, the research provides evidence that access to these institutions is managed through gatekeeping systems and processes that legitimise race and class inequalities.

Dr Myers said: “Elite universities are maintaining the status of privileged groups while maintaining a carefully curated visage of meritocracy. The elite status and branding of these institutions serve both the interests of Western dominance in the global higher education sector and the local interests of a privileged elite.

Universities at this level are often incredibly unwelcoming for those outside of the traditionally accepted social circle, and further ingrain race and class discrimination.

The study argues that ‘elite universities’ systematically define hierarchies of privilege, whereby students are positioned by a range of prior experiences that are unrelated to their academic ability – such as class, ethnicity and mobility.

“Students who haven’t progressed along the ‘elite’ pathways of private schools and familial connections communicated similar experiences of feeling they don’t belong in comparison to their wealthier, white counterparts.

Professor Bhopal continued: “This almost universal experience is characterised by a lack of capital necessary to thrive in the elite university environment, not just financial, but social and cultural capital as well. This makes it incredibly difficult for students who have not been traditionally accepted into these ‘elite’ spaces to navigate life at university.”

To find out more about Elite Universities and the Making of Privilege: Exploring Race and Class in Global Educational Economies, please visit: www.routledge.com/Elite-Universities-and-the-Making-of-Privilege-Exploring-Race-and-Class/Bhopal-Myers/p/book/9780367466077

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