Magazine article Times Higher Education

University Isn't for You: What 'Experts' Debate Tells the Working Class

Magazine article Times Higher Education

University Isn't for You: What 'Experts' Debate Tells the Working Class

Article excerpt

The 'HE-educated expert' v 'common man' conflict cements the notion that higher study is not for the poor, says Ryan Coogan

The last time I spoke to my dad, he told me to "pack in all this university shit and get a real job".

That was 18 months ago, and I had just met up with him for the first time in a long time to celebrate the fact that I had been offered a full scholarship for PhD study. It wasn't the first time he'd said it, and he wasn't the only person in my family to have expressed that sort of sentiment, but it was a blow all the same. We didn't fall out because of that encounter necessarily; we just don't speak any more. I suppose we've realised that we don't really have anything to say to each other.

I grew up on a council estate in Salford, and I was painfully aware of just how little money my family had even compared with the other members of our aggressively working-class community. And I don't use the word "aggressively" lightly: whenever I return home, I'm very aware of the fact that I'm returning to a sea of spiteful glances and waspish remarks that seem to be intended to counteract some imagined condescension on my part. Although there are definite exceptions - I still have friends and family who I know are proud of what I have accomplished - when taken as a whole the community's message is clear: you have turned your back on your roots, so your roots don't want you any more.

I imagine that some people reading this are already beginning to feel a bubbling sense of outrage at my suggesting that the working classes are peculiarly prone to a kind of malicious anti-intellectualism, and up until a few weeks ago I probably would have been right there with you. After all, this is my own heritage I am denigrating. But nor am I some kind of self-loathing proletarian: I'll be the first to admit that I will never not be working class, no matter how many craft beers I drink or how many Danish police procedurals I watch.

However, the recent referendum on the UK's membership of the European Union has asked us to choose one of two sides: in or out? Perhaps the most troubling dichotomy to have come out of this, for me personally, is the one that pits so-called university-educated experts (of whom Brexit campaigner Michael Gove said people were sick) against the "common man" (or woman). …

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