Azara Blog: Working class kids should not be getting into Oxbridge as much as middle class kids

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Date published: 2008/05/22

The BBC says:

Working class people have lower IQs than those from wealthy backgrounds and should not expect to win places at top universities, an academic has claimed.

Newcastle University's Bruce Charlton said fewer working class students at elite universities was the "natural outcome" of class IQ differences.

The reader in evolutionary psychiatry questioned drives to get more poorer students into top universities.

The government has criticised Dr Charlton's comments.

Dr Charlton said: "The UK Government has spent a great deal of time and effort in asserting that universities, especially Oxford and Cambridge, are unfairly excluding people from low social-class backgrounds and privileging those from higher social classes.

"Yet in all this debate a simple and vital fact has been missed: higher social classes have a significantly higher average IQ than lower social classes."

The fact that so few students from poor families get into Oxbridge is not down to "prejudice" but "meritocracy", he said.

Higher Education Minister Bill Rammell said: "These arguments have a definite tone of 'people should know their place'.

"There are young people with talent, ability and the potential to benefit from higher education who do not currently do so. That should concern us all."

In some sense it is good that at least someone has mentioned this obvious fact, and it is rather amazing that the BBC covered this story, since the BBC is the ultimate bastion of academic middle class political correctness (even if a large chunk of them went to Oxbridge).

On the other hand, Charlton misses the bigger picture. IQ is a very narrow measure of what constitutes intelligence (although it probably correlates well with how people achieve in university). And the variation in IQ (or any other purported measure of intelligence) is presumably much higher inside a social class than between social classes, and the variation between classes is probably not the overriding reason for observed differences in ability at 18.

Probably the main reason the "higher" social classes do better in getting into Oxbridge is that they receive a far better education, both at home and in school. The home environment is much more conducive to academic achievement for the "higher" social classes. State education in ordinary schools is fairly appalling, on the whole. Rather than admit to this, the government has (not surprisingly) decided to blame Oxbridge for not attempting to magically make up for 18 years of home and State neglect. If someone has not learned any proper maths by the time they are 18, it is not up to Oxbridge to figure out how to start teaching them analysis (etc.).

So by mistake, Charlton is correct that the posturing by the government with regard to Oxbridge is completely misguided.

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