Stairway to heven our role in making social mobility a reality
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Stairway to HEven : Our Role in Making Social Mobility a Reality. Keith Kinsella: Widening Participation Coordinator Access and Partnership Unit. What is Social Mobility?.

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Stairway to HEven : Our Role in Making Social Mobility a Reality

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Stairway to HEven: Our Role in Making Social Mobility a Reality

Keith Kinsella: Widening Participation Coordinator

Access and Partnership Unit

What is Social Mobility?

"Rich, thick kids do better than poor, clever children before they go to school. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of our society, the situation is getting worse."

Can we come up with a good definition?

Jargon Buster

Absolute Social Mobility

Relative Social Mobility

Your comparative chances of being socially mobile.

Middle class students have a much better chance than working class students.

Since the 1970s relative social mobility has declined in the UK

(The Spirit Level, Wilkinson and Pickett 2009)

  • The extent to which people do ‘better’ than their parents.

  • Due to the changing nature of the labour market and availability of credit the baby boom generation did do ‘better’ than their parents……

Graph showing impact of parents income on chances of being socially mobile

OECD Data. The higher the bar the more impact our parents income has on our ability to become socially mobile. In Denmark who your parents are has the least impact on our chances of ‘climbing the ladder’.

Social mobility in the UK compared to other developed economies…

Low social mobility results in more social inequality creating less social mobility……

  • Top 10% earn almost 12 times as much as bottom 10% (55k: 4.5k)……

  • In 1985 the top 10% earned 8 times more (gap has grown)

  • Top 1% take home 15% of total UK income (the ‘super rich’)

    (OECD Data)


The Professions

Social Impacts

  • Lack of opportunity/hope

  • High unemployment

  • ‘Cycle’ of poverty (Jones, 2011)

  • The Spirit Level (Wilkinson and Picket, 2009) illustrates a range of other correlations.

Why does the UK have low social mobility?

  • In pairs have a quick brainstorm of sorts of reasons why the UK has low social mobility.


  • Income inequality?

  • Poor parenting?

  • Poor teaching?

  • Lack of jobs?

  • Individuals are not motivated to achieve?

  • Many of these factors will play a part and should not be ignored. In the absence of substantial wealth redistribution education is the only mechanism open to most people to become socially mobile….

Why go to University: Common arguments…..

1) You can do okay without a degree, 40k is a lot of money.

2) With the new fees its ‘game over’ for social mobility through HE.

3) There are too many graduates now, a degree is worthless.

You don’t need a degree to earn more?

Your earning potential is greatly increased if you go to university…. Many jobs that didn’t need a degree in 1970 now require one….. On a very basic level it is a foot in the interview door.

Will a degree get you a job?

OECD data shows we are far behind many other countries…… Too many graduates?

The Changing Job Market: You’ll Need a Degree Anyway

Technological changes and outsourcing of routine white collar work will mean a contraction in jobs that used to be filled by school leavers at 18

Some jobs (security guards, cleaners etc. cannot rely on machines 100% and will expand to service the top of the hour glass)

(‘The Way We’ll Work: Labour Market Trends and Preparing for the Hourglass’, University Alliance, 2012)

If you don’t go?

  • 1 in 5 young people aged 18-24 are NEET.

What has been the impact of fees?

  • 12% drop in applicants for 2012 on a record 2011 number (+3% - 9% in real terms).

  • Biggest falls in mature and part-time students.

  • 1% fall in applications aged 18 (BIS Data)

    School leavers are still applying......

What is the APU doing to increase social mobility?

  • Targeted outreach work to –

  • Raise aspirations

  • Raise achievement

  • Provide information, advice and guidance

  • Support the University Retention Strategy by preparing students for undergraduate study before they arrive.

The communities we work with have low HE progression…..

These students are more likely to underachieve at L3

The gap remains but is lower for those doing vocational courses on FSM. This could be because the students from higher-income backgrounds do not have a tendency to choose vocational routes hence the statistics are not inflated by their presence.

So they are less likely to apply…

The applications by the poorest sections of society to elite universities has remained at only 3%!!! Further analysis shows that you are 15 times more likely to apply and be accepted to such institutions if you come from the wealthiest backgrounds.


  • We have discussed some of the barriers to social mobility in this session and how they can be overcome.

  • What sorts of issues do you think a student from a more deprived background might face in their first year of study at university?

  • What could be done to further support them?


  • We have defined social mobility

  • We have established that social mobility is very low in the UK

  • We have looked at some reasons why this might be the case

  • We have discussed what the university is doing to contribute to the social mobility agenda

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