Working Class Students Go to University 'In Hope Rather Than Expectation'

Going to university requires more effort and planning for working-class students who do not see it as the norm and are more likely to face financial hardships while studying, research suggests.

A new study reveals that gaining a degree is often still "a hope rather than expectation" for students from lower-income families, while their richer peers are more likely to accept it as normal.

There is more expectation amongst the middle class that they will go to university

But it adds that the difficulties that working-class youngsters go through to get into university and complete their degrees helps them to become more resilient and prepare them for the working world.

The paired peers project, led by researchers at Bristol University and the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), tracked 40 pairs of undergraduates from different backgrounds while they were studying to examine their experiences.

The findings show that getting a place at university was seen as normal, and even expected, for the middle-class students, but for those from working-class homes it was "usually a choice that required more consideration, effort and strategic planning, and was often a hope rather than expectation."

"There is a general feeling now among young people that if you want to have a good job, you do need to get a degree," according to Professor Harriet Bradley of UWE Bristol.

"The difference is middle-class people are more likely to take it for granted.

"It's an expectation that they all will go."

Going to university is more of a challenge for working-class students, who often have parents that are supportive and encouraging but unable to offer help with applying, she said.

Once on a degree course, middle-class students usually have financial support from their parents, while those from lower-income families can end up working while they study, which gives them less time for extra-curricular activities, the researchers said.

"For many working-class students, the difficult process of getting into and staying at university helped develop a resilience which proved valuable to their experience of studying and has prepared them for the world of work."

The study goes on to say that middle-class students also benefit from family links and networks not open to those from working-class homes that help them gain jobs when they graduate.

Prof Bradley said: "All students are aware that it is difficult to get a job in the current economic situation, but middle-class students know they have those extra resources. Many have family members of friends of family who work in certain professions."

Those people can help these students to get into the professions they are interested in, she added.

The report comes just weeks after a report by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission found that the UK's top universities are becoming more exclusive, with fewer poor students admitted than a decade ago.

Alan Milburn, the Government's social mobility tsar, said that while it was clear that universities were increasingly determined to help make Britain socially mobile, it was time for leading institutions to ''up their game''.

The Russell Group, which represents 24 leading institutions including Oxford and Cambridge, has warned that the many reasons why state-educated pupils and poorer students are under-represented cannot be solved by universities alone.