Raising the Stakes: Collective Action in Pursuit of Social Mobility

On 15 May, we’ll be gathering together senior leaders, experts, and experienced practitioners from across sectors to explore the barriers to higher education and employment for people from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Amongst our speakers are those who are defining the terms of debate and leading the way in innovative practice, such as Chis Millward (Director for Fair Access and Participation, OfS), Professor David Latchman (Vice Chancellor, Birkbeck), and Maddalaine Ansell (Chief Executive, University Alliance). With opportunities for debate and comment from attendees throughout the day, new and challenging issues are exposed and policy is exposed to scrutiny.

The conference is a pivotal part of our work. Not only is it an opportunity for us to convene colleagues and showcase the latest evidence and thinking around social equality, but it is a source of inspiration for us: driving forward our research and policy activity.

Why does our conference matter? 

While efforts to widen participation are having an impact, we know from recent HESA data and reports (most recently, HEPI’s Benchmarking widening participation) that some higher education institutions are performing better than others in terms of fostering a socially diverse, and representative, community of students and ensuring equality of outcomes by background. At present, our higher education system reinforces social inequality rather than diminishes it. The most affluent students continue to be the beneficiaries of the system as they are the most geographically mobile; they tend to have higher school-level attainment; and therefore they are more likely to attend high tariff institutions which have a premium in the marketplace.

We also know that the higher education system is failing to attract and support mature learners by offering them the flexible provision and financial support that they need. It is staggering that government and the sector have sat back and watched the decline of part-time students fall by 67% over the last decade. It is especially lamentable given that part-time learners are most likely to be from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

To achieve a fairer system and a more equal society, we urgently need to raise the stakes for the higher education sector, government, and employers at the same time as maintaining a focus on stakes fairness (a fair and even distribution of risks and benefits). Our conference will play an important part in identifying the key challenges — focusing the spotlight on areas most in need of activity — along with the cross-sector solutions required to achieve lasting reform.

Re-framing the debate 

In raising the stakes and setting more challenging and focused objectives, the conference will pose some searching questions for policymakers; in particular, around the idea of social mobility. We’ll be asking if a focus on social mobility detracts from social equality. For instance, does it place too much emphasis on individual gain and success rather than ensuring a fair and even distribution of benefits and resources? Importantly, how can we influence policy to increase the number of prizes bestowed while minimising the impact of the result? Professor Mike Savage and Alan Milburn are amongst our speakers provoking debate around these issues.

Collective thinking and action

Our conference is unique in gathering expertise together from across sectors to share evidence and effective practice and promote a joined-up approach to devising policy solutions. It’s an opportunity for sectors to listen to each other and understand how they can best collaborate to minimise the effects of cumulative disadvantage and ease the difficulties around transitions across educational phases and into employment.

Join in the debate on 15 May!

Follow the link for further details about the conference.