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The Myth of Meritocracy

What is a meritocracy and do we live in one?

Meritocracy is the idea that people gain success or power based on their own accomplishments, not because of their money or social class.

Now, do we live in a meritocracy? Well yes and no. Some people have become successful because they have accomplished things. However, the system does not give everyone a fair chance of success. The meritocracy myth ignores how parents from more fortunate backgrounds may offer their children an advantage by paying for extra education and leveraging social capital to gain employment, experience, or advice.

Meritocracy and the educational system

Children in private schools receive 300 percent more education funding than public schools.

Studies have demonstrated how social class was a more significant predictor of academic achievement than IQ level, implying the role of structural/social inequalities for those from working-class backgrounds. The 2020 A-Level scandal in which the poorest students received the lowest grades, provides further evidence of this inequality.

The myth not only ignores educational advantages, but also overlooks how people exploit aspects of their identity to become successful, such as being male, able-bodied, and neurotypical. Meritocracy ignores how other aspects of our identities such as ethnicity, and gender identity can create additional hurdles and barriers to success.

The 'escape hatch'

Pursuing higher education and getting a professional job is viewed as an 'escape hatch' from the working-class in societal narratives. Therefore, the concept that being working-class is something one should aspire away from is demeaning and serves to alienate working-class people from their 'roots' after they gain professional employment. This further demonstrates the idea that it is impossible to be both working-class and have a professional job.

Wealthy students keep getting richer

NUS President Shakira Martin told BBC: "Poor students are penalised for being poor. I believe the system as it currently stands is totally unfair. Students that are coming from working class and disadvantaged families, end up leaving university with more debt than those from middle-class families."

Student Finance is means-tested, meaning that a student from a low-income household will receive more in loans than their more affluent peers. This means that they end up with more debt than those from more affluent families.

Working-class students are less likely to obtain the highest degree class and far less likely to continue their education after completing their undergraduate degree. They also have reduced access to things such as career guidance, mentorship, and support, this means that an even lower proportion of working-class students will pursue professional employment following graduation.

Tory education plans to attack working-class students

Applicants who do not pass GCSE English and Maths will no longer be eligible for student loans under the Conservatives' new higher education plan. This shameful legislation would practically prevent a fifth of young people from attending university.

It will not only mean that many university students will be faced with life-long debt, but if these proposals go forward, some students will now be expected to pay £9,250 every year upfront. This is merely impossible for most people.

Personal challenges coming from a working-class background

I identify as working class. I used to always believe in the harder you worked the more likely you are to succeed. But I became aware of differences between myself and my peers whilst I was at university, and I can now understand that “hard work” is not rewarded fairly. For example, in my second year at university, I was applying for countless jobs for my placement year. As I was aware, it might be challenging to find employment after graduating without experience, especially for those without “contacts” like me. It was more difficult for me to get a placement because I was applying during COVID, and many of my peers struggled to get one too.

However, I was unsuccessful in getting one, whereas my peers were successful in doing so because of the "contacts" their parents had. The difficulty of coming from a working-class background and constantly feeling behind is illustrated by this.


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