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Education and inequality… June 19, 2013

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Economy, The Left.

One of the problems with private education and the privatisation more broadly of education are the way in which they embed inequality. Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Analysis podcast this week Yale University Professor Jacob Hacker, also known as the person who coined the phrase predistribution, now very much in vogue with the British Labour Party, described in two short paragraphs precisely what the outcomes of this are…

Over the last generation as our society has become more unequal (both in the US and UK) we have seen essentially a privatisation of opportunity in the US. That is high income affluent citizens are pouring more and more money into their children from college education to early childhood intervention at the beginning and that means that inequality is becoming self-reproducing in these societies.

So what we have seen over the last generation is that in societies with higher inequality it looks as if inequality of opportunity has also increased.

It’s a very useful podcast on this topic. There’s the following.

…It is one thing to have a society where there’s a gap between rich and poor and there’s a high level of mobility but another to have a society in which it looks increasingly as if the rich are able to have advantages for themselves and their children and those who are not in the pinnacles of the economy are really shut out.

And his analysis of the broad outlines of the processes at work have dismal implications for the future.

He makes one other point that is worth reflecting on, particularly in this polity where so often the discussion revolves around the trope that primary education should get the focus and part of that necessitates increased fees or loans at third level.

As to the first contention he agrees, suggesting that pre-k (pre-kindergarten) and primary education is crucial. But, and this is an interesting twist, he follows that up immediately by suggesting that…

….college education… if the college degree is increasingly what the high school degree used to be, the entry ticket into the middle class [US definition of same], I can say confidently that we’re failing to uphold the ability of everyone to have access to that entry ticket.

The reasons for that failure?

Britain may be doing better but what I see in the US and I think we’re seeing more and more across the world is again that that prerequisite of opportunity is being privatised, more and more the cost of education being borne by loans, state universities in the US are incredibly cash-strapped.

He continues:

…so what we’re basically seeing is a stark disparity. The highest scoring students in the US from lower income families are less likely to complete college than the lowest scoring students from higher income families.

That is a genuinely worrying statistic.

Hacker’s position is centre left and he’s not at all coy about seeking to shore up the current dispensation, but his instincts are clearly leftwards with a strong emphasis on equality, workers rights and so on.

The question is what kind of a society do we want to live in? Do we want to live in a society where the very well off are cosmopolitans who can jet from one place to another whereas more and more middle class workers are constrained squeezed worried disenchanted, spectators at the game of democracy which is increasingly played out with big dollars and broken political institutions…

And while he places too much emphasis, in my reckoning, on civil society he’s some worrying thoughts about living in a post-labour (in the sense of labour unions) society and new forms, or rather the lack of them, of organising labour.

A lot to think about there.


1. Justin - June 19, 2013

This looks very interesting. Regarding what he says about the university degree becoming what the high school graduation used to be as an entry ticket, British geographer Danny dorling makes exactly the same point. Can’t remember exactly where he wrote it. The essentially privatised masters degree is probably the new means of funnelling people through to jobs with middle class pay-scales. Probably a smaller number of people will expect to live the relatively stable middle income lifestyle. the rest will be expected have to live uunder a regime of ‘flexicurity’. sounds a lot like the USA. I haven’t followed the story but isn’t Gove in the process of downgrading the value of ‘A’ levels?


WorldbyStorm - June 19, 2013

And to follow on from what your saying the push behind MAs is huge, although I seem to remember hearing grant funding has been cut on them.


2. Ninth Level Ireland » Blog Archive » Education and inequality … - June 19, 2013

[…] “One of the problems with private education and the privatisation more broadly of education are the way in which they embed inequality. Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Analysis podcast this week Yale University Professor Jacob Hacker …” (more) […]


3. Ian - June 19, 2013

On the point re access to higher education, approx 48% of al school leavers in Ireland go on to some form of third level education. This is way above the EU average, and indeed, way above the EU goal of 40% of all school leavers by 2020, despite all the increases in the third level charge in recent years..

We also have a reasonably progressive student grant system which (When the system works!) helps approximately 40% of all students in third level in some shape or form.

I think one of the key facts glossed over by most people in Ireland on the debate of free education is that while the free fees model has not magically boosted third level attendance from certain social cohorts, it certainly has developed a norm amongst Irish people that third level is now a natural progression from second level. As a norm for our society, that is to be welcomed.

Our institutions may not compete with the Oxfords and Harvards, but do they really need to? If we have a reasonably well funded higher ed system, which is relatively affordable, then we are probably giving our society, on the whole a decent chance to succeed.

I’m not saying everything is perfect (lots of things could always be improved) but I think Ireland is in a better position than most other countries relatively speaking on this issue.


WorldbyStorm - June 19, 2013

A lot to agree with there Ian.

I think it’s very clear that ‘free’ fees has made a significant difference on the ground in communities and social groups where 3rd level was never hitherto an option. It may not yet be being taken up fully but change there has been (and one other point that’s worth making is that far too often the emphasis in these discussions is on the Colleges – ie TCD, etc – while ignoring how the ITs have widened access to many thousands).

I have to admit I think that it was one of the most progressive measures of the last two decades and in that respect the LP should be congratulated, and pushed to defend that legacy rather than jettisoning it.


Tomboktu - June 19, 2013

One of the questions about the increased access to higher education is the question of how it is achieved. The HEA continues to have a dedicated office for equity of access to higher education.

A challenge is to esnure that not only are students from poorer familes going to college in numbers that reflect their proportion of the population, but that they are getting into elite degree courses like law or medicine in those proportions.

Another facet of that challenge is ensuring that the increased access for those groups is not achieved by primarily by groups entering courses leading to qualifications at Levels 6 (advanced certificates) and Level 7 (ordinary bachelors — which used to be called diplomas) as against Level 8 (honors bachelor degrees).


Jim Monaghan - June 20, 2013

A general point. Of course everyone capable of a degree should be allowed into college. But would it create equality? Most people who escape their family situation get absorbed into the ruling elites. Only very inflexible societies where there is stagnation or say racial prejudice does resentment continue.
I would add that society to develop has to move beyond the current high status professions. See the letters where parents complain that their kids who got the 600 points “wasted it doing something else rather than medicine. And implicit in this is the bias against skills. The Germans (formerly despised by the Anglo-American Thatcherites) hold skill in high regard. Their crafts are so much better trained and educated than here. And they get excellent people into them.
Parents and indeed the system educate people for teh world of in part the past and not for the world that is emerging. Like generals they learn to win the last war.
And if there is one thing we can learn form say the Behan family, it is that a degree is not necessary to be an intellectual.


Justin - June 20, 2013

Evidence from TUC in England suggests that it is the those who do lesser skilled jobs who have lost out most in the pay squeeze of the past 30 years. I suggest an education policy concentrating on apprenticeships as part of an industrial policy aimed at a comprehensive transformation of the infrastructure in the
direction of low carbon sustainability. And lots of money and attention paid to pre-school and early primary education.


WorldbyStorm - June 20, 2013

Can’t disagree with any of the above. It has to be broad spectrum but also I’d like to see the definition of 3rd level opened up further to incorporate more of a skills base/apprenticeships approach.


richotto - June 21, 2013

Thats a surprisingly openminded statement and fair play to Ian. This emphasis we have on academic qualifications has developed into a bizarre “arms race” which is bad enough but when people consider 50% or more going to third level as a mark of social progress my eyes just go up. Firstly many people feel forced to take that route now just as much as they are forced to emigrate. Delaying earning does not come naturally. Secondly I’ve heard it quoted that graduates get an 80% premium on average over non graduates. This in my view is largely simple snobbery and is what should be really
criticised by left wingers instead of being effectively promoted as progressive. For example the nurses Union forced the Govt to institute acadamically biased degree status to a nurses qualification instead of the previous in house hospital training qualification route. This was a largely cynical device to screw more money by making nurses appear as comparable to doctors.


BB - June 20, 2013

I agree. Furthermore, across Europe the right of free education is under attack. Education is facing severe restructuring. In many countries schools face part or full privatisations, students are being asked to pay fees for higher education while funding is cut and the quality of education dwindles.

Free fees was a progressive measure here. All public education should be free; regardless of whom it is for. Labour should protect it. Youth organisations, trade unions and social movements should do so too. What we have – we hold.

Yet, despite this, the cutbacks in education are ongoing. We were recently told that there will be a 12% cut from next September in resource teaching hours. It brings to 25% the cut to children with autism, physical disabilities, severe or profound learning disabilities and emotional disturbance in schools. So, those who are the most in the need of support get sidelined, unless they come from families who can afford the private tuition and assistance.

This is why equality of access to education should not necessarily imply equality of treatment. The legal concept of equality endorses recognition of pertinent differences and requires that persons be treated differently to the extent that there is a relevant difference between them.

It is not appropriate to treat persons the same when they are in fact already unequal. To do so is to perpetuate rather than to lessen inequality. And yet this continually happens. Maybe more working class people access third level education than previously. But look what happens when they get in: they are utterly disadvantaged compared to their better-off cohorts.

The sources of disadvantage are varied and many. They include transport costs, accommodation costs, inability to purchase books, disability barriers, lack of cultural capital etc. The current student grant system does not address this, even when it works. No wonder so many students from working families fail to complete their courses.


WorldbyStorm - June 20, 2013



4. hjfoley - June 20, 2013

Reblogged this on misebogland.


5. Economic Refugee - June 20, 2013

The Equality Trust‘s online research results should be much more widely disemminated, and it’s evidence that has, in my experience, traction with people who aren’t naturally or conciously anti-capitalist.

The evidence linking social mobility with more egalitarian societies is strong.


Economic Refugee - June 20, 2013

Damn – link failed <a href="The Equality Trust’s online research.


6. fergal - June 20, 2013

Bakunin in or around the time that he was expelled from the International by the Marxists in a throwaway remarked mentioned something called “lifelong education”, the idea of dipping into and out of education. The idea that education as opposed to schooling stops at 16,18 or 21 sounds horrific. The ITs,evening classes,and Fetac courses may a fairly good stab at this.
Paul Goodman in Compulsory Miseducation suggests that diploma inflation is a self-fulfilling prophesy. You can’t get a job because you only have a Junior Cert, so you need the Leaving and so on., and he was writing in the 1960s.
Illych believed that working class kids who “did well” were lost to the system, instead of becoming articulate and intellignet fighters for their class in labour unions.
Privatising Master’s degrees and courses creates a new clientele for the banks and locks in young people into a life of debt…..paying back loans and worrying about how to do this instead of being troublesome as all good young peole should be. Cuts off the possibility of another May 1968.
If were possible to have a motto for a thriving education system it has to be liberty, fraternity and equality. Liberty is gone as kids have to learn what the jobs market wants(Chinese, IT,finance etc etc ). Equality is being done down yet again as for fraternity in an exam-driven, competitive system?


7. fergal - June 20, 2013

sorry just to finish up as those on the left are always criticised for not coming up with solutions/alternatives
1 invest heavily in fetac courses,evening classes
2 place the learner at the centre of education-a Summerhill in every county!
3 promote Freinet type schools
4 second, third and fourth chance education possibilities
5 as Justin and Jim have suggested,invest in genuine craft and trade training
6 Home-schooling
7 open up ordinary schools to the public, a kind of social centre, creche, coffeeshop,creche,workshops, evening courses. Some VECs are fairly good at this


WorldbyStorm - June 20, 2013

Some great ideas there fergal. I particularly think the last one is crucial. It’s about enabling communities and seeing these as community facilities. We’re lucky where I am that the local national school understands that function to a good degree and so supplements the local community centre rather than being detached from the community.

Also third fourth fifth chance. Education has to be for life, development has to be for life.


Tomboktu - June 20, 2013

8. (which, in fariness to fergal, may be just expanding his 1st suggestion): Provide grants and fee exemptions for part0time students.


8. Tomboktu - June 20, 2013

I was at an event about two or three years ago at which a senior manager from the HEA gave a paper on the HEA’s work on trying to increas equality in particpation in higher education. He said that the data had shown a picture of inequality that was not on the policy agenda. The traditional focus has been on the children of unskilled manual workers as a touchstone of whether there have been changes. However, the HEA had found that the group that was being left behind in all of the efforts to increase equality in college entries was the children of lower paid clerical and other non-manual workers.


WorldbyStorm - June 20, 2013

That makes sense and it’s equally worrying, pockets where inequality is actually deepened.


9. GM - June 21, 2013

Charlie Mullins, founder of Pimlico Plumbers: “I do regret leaving school at 15, I should have left at 14.” (http://about-us.pimlicoplumbers.com/money-week)

Put me in the camp which says that most education after the early teenage years is a tragic waste of time for everyone concerned.

As for privatisation/socialisation, it’s clear to us in the swivel-eyed corner that taking away the freedom of parents to help their children is reckless social engineering, another symptom of the barbarous desire by statists to drag everyone down to their lowest common denominator.

We now get to enjoy the long-run effects of socialist ideology: mandatory public schooling which bears little practical differences in most instances to day prison, and a university system which is a black hole for public funds and whose graduates are generally unable to get jobs requiring any skills which a 16 or 18 year old does not possess (if they are even capable of getting one of those jobs).

Looking forward to the collapse and rebirth of the educational system from scratch.


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