Possible questions for David Blacker HEAT group

First to say I am enjoying the book so far, although needing to take it in measured doses, partly because I am reading it on a phone, and should have worked to the end shortly.

First, a broader question about the wider intellectual critique of which David’s book might be seen to situate itself. From at least the 1960s on, if not before, there has been a strong element of the critique of higher education conceived as being linked solely to economic prosperity as the summum bonum. This critique has been shared here by both the Left as well as the Right or Right-leaning, e.g. in the anxious conservatism of educationalists and cultural critics such as F. R. Leavis. By and large this critique from either perspective has had limited impact in altering the course of higher education in the UK. Where does he locate hope, if any, for the future beyond stoicism or even measured pessimism? This question may be addressed at the end of the book, but my sense from the tenor of the book so far is that hope is in short supply.

Secondly about trends. A publication is out today (November 6) in the British Journal of Sociology which looks at data on social mobility and questions the ways in which broad brush statements are made here about social mobility:

Social mobility is now a matter of greater political concern in Britain than at any time previously. However, the data available for the determination of mobility trends are less adequate today than two or three decades ago. It is widely believed in political and in media circles that social mobility is in decline. But the evidence so far available from sociological research, focused on intergenerational class mobility, is not supportive of this view. We present results based on a newly-constructed dataset covering four birth cohorts that provides improved data for the study of trends in class mobility and that also allows analyses to move from the twentieth into the twenty-first century. These results confirm that there has been no decline in mobility, whether considered in absolute or relative terms. In the case of women, there is in fact evidence of mobility increasing. However, the better quality and extended range of our data enable us to identify other ‘mobility problems’ than the supposed decline. Among the members of successive cohorts, the experience of absolute upward mobility is becoming less common and that of absolute downward mobility more common; and class-linked inequalities in relative chances of mobility and immobility appear wider than previously thought.

Bukodi E, Goldthorpe JH, Waller L, Kuha J
Department of Social Policy and Intervention, Nuffield College, Oxford. The British Journal of Sociology http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1468-4446.12096/abstract

David’s argument clearly touches on social mobility and its connection with life/employment chances. I wonder if as someone looking at our system here from an outsider’s perspective he has any thoughts about how to understand the kind of complex picture that seems to be emerging in this study, and its implications for higher education, at least in the UK?

Steven Cranfield

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