Book publication announcement

Students Of Color and Those from Working Class Backgrounds Struggle to Feel a Sense of Belonging in Elite Universities, Study Says

Students who have not attended private school often feel they do not belong in ‘elite institutions’, a new study reveals.

Despite accessing an elite university, students of color and poorer students find themselves positioned as second- or third-class citizens within the institution.

Sense of belonging

The study, released today, was carried out by Kalwant Bhopal, Professor of Education and Social Justice and Director of the Centre for Research on Race and Education at the University of Birmingham, and Martin Myers, a sociologist of education in the School of Education at the University of Nottingham.

The research is based on interviews with students at four ‘elite universities’ in the UK and U.S.

The interviews provide evidence that access to elite universities is managed through gatekeeping systems and processes that legitimize race and class inequalities.

Professor Kalwant Bhopal explains: “Students who haven’t progressed along the elite pathways of private schools and familial connections communicated similar experiences of feeling they don’t belong in comparison to their wealthier white counterparts.

“This almost universal experience is characterized by a lack of capital necessary to thrive in the elite university environment, not just financial, but social and cultural capital as well. This makes it incredibly difficult for students who have not been traditionally accepted into these ‘elite’ spaces to navigate life at university.”

Hierarchies of privilege

Professor Bhopal and Dr Myers argue that elite universities systematically define hierarchies of privilege, in which students are positioned by a range of prior experiences including class, ethnicity and mobility unrelated to their academic ability.

Dr Myers said: “Elite universities are maintaining the status of privileged groups while maintaining a carefully curated visage of meritocracy. The elite status and branding of these institutions serves both the interests of Western dominance in the global higher education sector and the local interests of a privileged elite. Universities at this level are often incredibly unwelcoming for those outside of the traditionally accepted social circle, and further ingrain race and class discrimination.”