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University, the 'old boys network' and climbing that ladder

THE PREMISE that attending an elite institution is a prerequisite for social mobility and success is an idea that is hotly-debated.

To a large degree, having an elite institution on one’s CV massively enhances their chances of employment at the top companies in the world. Many prestigious organisations are renowned for their selective hiring processes, often discarding candidates solely based on the university they attended. Thus, in this respect it only seems logical that attendance to an elite university enables mobility.

The existence of the infamous ‘old boys’ network’ in many of these top companies, also serves to enhance the importance of university education. Attendance to top schools allows one’s exposure to such elite networks, which will undoubtedly pay dividend when searching for employment post-university. Some may even argue, association with such networks and personnel has an even more of a profound effect on those from a lower social class – it gives them a confidence in both their ability and personality that allows them to assert themselves more effectively within high pressure environments. As such, there is certainly merit in the argument that elite university education enhances social mobility.


IT'S NOT WHAT YOU KNOW: Students pose for photos outside Kings College at Cambridge University as they make their way home after celebrating the end of the academic year at the May Balls earlier this year

An interesting piece of research was carried out by a group of Stanford Students, in which they found that black students in classes with white children with higher SAT scores were more likely to finish in the bottom tenth of their class. The research is particularly thought provoking; especially when you consider that the vast majority of the lower classes are made up of ethnic minorities.

Perhaps, then, going to elite universities is not the solution for social mobility, and may even prove counterproductive.

This view is further exacerbated by the fact that work place discrimination still persists, whether this discrimination centres on race or is underpinned by the operation of overt nepotism and cronyism.

Nonetheless, irrespective of one’s university it cannot be denied that there are institutional obstacles to achieving mobility – often resulting in a perpetuating cycle of stagnation amongst those of the lower classes.

Maybe, just maybe, attending an elite university is futile in regard to mobility, with the issue of social immobility spurred on by members of lower classes themselves.

Dr. Pete Jones has conducted some fascinating research into the concept of ‘unconscious bias’, which is the idea that known stereotypes affects minority members negatively, and may obscure performances in important situations. Interestingly, research has shown that it is people with a higher IQ that are more profoundly affected by ‘unconscious bias’. Such research suggests that social immobility may be the result of the behaviour of the affected group.

On balance, attending an elite university seems more of an enabler of social mobility rather than the sole determiner of mobility. Whilst attending an elite institution is perhaps the most proficient method to advance social mobility, there is no doubt that the root in class stagnation partly lies within the minority it affects.

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