The task of improving social mobility in the UK is immense. Just last year, the government’s Social Mobility Commission (SMC), opened its fifth annual report by describing the UK as a “deeply divided nation.” The first annual Student Social Mobility Awards are therefore needed more than ever.
Taking place next month in the House of Lords and supported by the SMC, the awards are being organised by upReach, a charity founded in 2015, whose message is clear and pertinent: “we support undergraduates from less-advantaged backgrounds to secure top jobs.” The charity has rapidly grown under leadership from CEO John Craven, an alumnus of Fitzwilliam College who went on to work in the city and teach economics before taking on the role at upReach. Over the last few years upReach has supported an array of undergraduates from across the UK to access graduate jobs in a range of sectors including technological development, marketing and central government; and the charity boasts 79% of those it supports being in graduate work or further education six months after graduation.
However, the focus of the awards is on showcasing the achievements of current undergraduates. As Rachael Miller, head of the SMC Secretariat points out, it will be an evening to “recognise that some young people have to overcome more barriers than others to succeed,” and understand that this makes them “all the more impressive.” Yet the event will also champion the work of people and institutions who have helped less-advantaged students succeed during and beyond university. The judging panel is a coalition of academics, industry professionals and campaigners, and it is being hosted by Labour Peer Baroness Helena Kennedy and sponsored by Meryll Lynch. It promises to be an ambitious and all-encompassing celebration of what is still being achieved in spite of a bleak national backdrop, in which over 14 million people continue to live in poverty and where there remains a gaping disparity in income.
Although it is obviously important to recognise the extraordinary success of those who have, as Craven puts it “succeeded against all odds,” it is equally a reminder that the odds are still stacked highly against poorer students, even after university. While top state school students generally perform better at university than their privately educated peers, they remain a minority in many professional sectors including journalism and law, where a mere 26% of judges were state-educated.
Nowhere are these issues more prevalent than here in Cambridge, where the university plummeted to the bottom of the university fair access table this year and has among the lowest state school intake of any university in the country. As the university will point out they are working to change this, but it will be a long and drawn out process.
These awards are a much-needed way of positively publicising the need for social mobility and are a reminder that there are still people working tirelessly to promote it, but also begs the question of what more we can do to ensure that championing equality is not merely a charitable task but a fundamental social responsibility.
The awards will take place on the 13th December; nominations are open to all until 31st October.