Working-class students don’t need special treatment

Rarely a week goes by without some call to make universities safer, fairer places for students. The latest scheme has come from the charity Reclaim, which has suggested that professors need specialist training to help break down the ‘social, ethnic and political barriers’ between them and their students, and foster an environment of ‘cultural awareness’ in the seminar room.

It goes without saying that not all professors are from posh backgrounds. Furthermore, most of them are capable of being considerate about the problems that students might face without requiring specialist training. Clearly, Reclaim’s suggestion is ludicrous. But it still begs the question: do students from poorer backgrounds really need academic staff to understand them?

Why does a professor need to know anything about a student’s financial or cultural background? Why should they give a damn? The job of a professor is to teach their subject. They’re employed to be experts in their field of knowledge, not to be counsellors.

Students themselves shouldn’t want, or need, their tutors to know about their backgrounds. Is Reclaim really arguing that poorer students should be given special treatment? Do poorer students need more help and guidance than their more well-off peers? Of course not.

Students from all backgrounds gain their place at university not based on their bank balance or the size of their parents’ house, but on their academic ability. State-school kids may face challenges that private-school kids do not. But working-class students earn their place at university through their own hard work and merit. It is deeply patronising to suggest that they need a leg-up.

This call for specialised training is an insult to professors’ ability to be normal, socially aware adults. But it’s even more of an insult to the students it’s aiming to help.

Benedict Spence is a writer based in London.

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