By Michelle Coull

While gender equality is a hot topic in the news these days, class divides tend to be discussed less.

But not so on university campus.

This is the 21st century when many would argue there is no issue with the working class and education. The days when someone would brag that they were the first in a family to go to university are long gone. Right?

Class divides on campus are sadly very real, prompting Manchester University to become the latest in a line of higher education institutions to recruit “working class officers” to represent poorer students.

Diversity in universities has always been encouraged. But the latest research by the Government’s social mobility commission discovered the proportion of poorer students attending the best universities has fallen in the last 10 years.

It is believed the loss of maintenance grants and the cutting of the Manchester Bursary has made it necessary for two working class officers to be appointed to represent those from poorer backgrounds.

What motivates students to do a degree is a belief in a better life, with higher education advantages leading to a better career.

But despite the benefits of a university degree, there is a concern that the voices of less affluent students are being drowned out.

As student recruitment strategies go, some have been critical of the idea of working class officers, claiming they are patronising.

One Tweet raged: “There’s nothing more anti-working class than the assumption working class undergraduates need a ‘class liberation officer’ to protect them.”

But the Student Union defended its move, claiming it was working to reduce the impact of social class on education.

Manchester was the inspiration for 1980s comedy The Young Ones, written by Ben Elton and Rik Mayall, who attended the university alongside Ade Edmondson.

Improving student achievement for economically disadvantaged students is the goal, according to the university, protecting the working class from “microaggressions” and classism.

Applicants for the two posts – one of which is reserved for a woman – have to ‘self-identify’ as working class. They also need to either be in receipt of the Manchester Bursary, a care leaver, or the first in their family to go to university.

Manchester is the latest in a long line of universities to create the position of working class officers. The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) has one, as does King’s College London. St Hilda’s College at Oxford University recently voted to appoint one.  

Last November, students at Oxford passed a motion to create the new post, backing a motion that said working class students suffered from 'microaggressions and classism at university' and needed more support.


For student recruitment and education marketing, contact us on 0800 612 9890.