Social Mobility & Glass Ceilings or a lack of belief in young people from those in positions of influence?

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Alan Milburn’s much reported recent study on widening access to high-status jobs does not make enough of a key point (aspiration) and picks on well worn paths such as further widening access into HE. But withoutthe aspirational influencers within HE (of which there is a huge lack) there is a risk of creating more disappointed graduates. So it is what happens to them once in HE that needs more focus.

My experience is that what students need is more encouragement and inspiration – they know what high status jobs are available and out there. Today’s generation, more than ever, have huge levels of confidence, what they need to be be told is that you can do whatever you really set your mind to and then show them what they need to to i.e. how to make their dreams and aspirations happen. We as a nation are too guilty of setting aspirations too low for fear of failure – our traditional attitude as a nation is better to have not failed than to try at all.

But we will miss a huge opportunity as a country if we do not take today’s generation of young people’s confidence and say to them ‘yes you can’ and show them how to get there; hook them into networks that can support them and bring them into contact with the right people, like the Bright Futures Society that I run,  because like it or not who you know will always matter.

I heard a great expression from a Head of Careers this week at a ‘less prestigious’ University who sees her role for her students as being a ‘pushy parent’ and I think that is a great attitude to take. The aspirations are there in our students – it’s why they go to University – they just need more people, within and outside HE,  fighting their corner and critically with real ambition.


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