20 March 2007

Have You Got the University Gene?

Paul Anderson pointed me towards Rod Liddle’s article on the proposed “change” to University admission policy.

Now leaving aside the fact I noticed that nearly all of the aggrieved comments on the issues went across the traditional Right-Left divide, pointing to the fact that the agitated Middle Classes seem united irrespective of some supposed political differences.

I don't want to get into an argument as to whether the Middle Classes, or large chunks of them, make a conscious effort to pull up the ladder behind them or just apply more grease to the already greasy pole, no, instead what took my eye was a comment by Rod Liddle, which seemed to sum up a subconscious middle-class belief:

“It’s a sad fact that raw intelligence is largely inherited. Penalise those whose parents got themselves into university and you are probably penalising Britain’s brightest young people.”

Which seems to suggest, not too subtly, that Britain's brightest people only ever go to University and always have?

But does going to University mean that people are intelligent or the brightest ? Have they intelligence in raw amounts? And do they even inherit it genetically from their, presumably, intelligent parents? Is it part social, cultural, a lot of training and pushy parents? Or is the financial capacity to go to University crucial?

I think the answer to that is obvious.

It seems like a dangerous way of thinking and it reminded me of the Bell Curve, the notion that IQ is primarily genetic, and following Rod Liddle’s argument, is it the case that people that haven't attended University are somehow lacking in raw intelligence or somthing else?

I wonder if Rod Liddle has considered that intelligence is randomly distributed across a population and that the opportunity to go to University is generally proportional to the ability to pay for it. In the age of loans, successful undergraduates tend to come* from wealthier backgrounds**, but not necessarily one’s possessing more raw intelligence.

So Rod Liddle’s comment sounds like one of those subconscious middle-class prejudice that seeps out when you least expect it, although I could imagine that most of the chattering classes would be nodding their heads in agreement with his point, irrespective of some supposed egalitarianism or sense of equality on their part.

It is that ugly spectre of class and wealth raising its head again, surprise, surprise: "quick grease the pole before the proles get here!"

*[The study also found that the rapid expansion of higher education during the late 80s and 90s had not benefited the worst off. During that time the proportion of people from the poorest 20% of society getting a degree rose from 6% to 9%, but for the wealthiest 20% it rose from 20% to 47%.]

**[Young people from middle-class homes are now six times  more likely to go to university than students from working-class backgrounds, the gathering of MPs, headteachers, university leaders and education experts heard. Poor students would not have a fair chance to attend university until there was a radical reform of the school system to ensure that poor children got better access to good schools."]

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