Illustration by Grace Kirman
This article and its author do not in any way endorse recent antisemitic actions by LSE Class War. This article was written prior to the incident in question, and mention of this society in this article serves solely as an example of how a university might tackle classism.
The new society founded by students at the LSE, ‘LSE Class War’, is as provocative as the name would suggest. With far reaching aims, including the refusal of private-school admissions and the removal of the Hayek Society from the SU, this group is unapologetically against what they call the ‘corporatization’ of the LSE and higher education more generally.
And who can blame them? The LSE was founded by the Fabian Society to further their socialist agenda, yet since then it has become a factory for City bankers and consultants – a criticism that could, to a lesser extent, be applied to our own beloved Oxford. The point of education, contrary to what the neo-liberals will tell you, is not to be able to go into a ridiculously high-paying job at the end of it, but to be better able to make a positive impact on the world around you. This is something that many of our money-obsessed peers, supported by our educational institutions, appear to have forgotten.
It’s for this reason that they are calling for an end to the inclusion of the phrase ‘social mobility’ within access schemes. I must admit that I was sceptical about this, but having spoken to LSE Class War, they make a sound argument. Through these schemes, which usually include giving working-class students opportunities to get into high-paying jobs, us working-class students are encouraged to engage in the type of jobs that keeps millions of workers oppressed while also masquerading as proof of the age-old lie that anyone can do anything if they work hard enough. Better, I suppose, to have the clever plebs working for you than against you.
Despite this performative pandering to the myth of ‘social mobility’, the fact remains that both the LSE and Oxford have a disproportionate amount of privately educated students. Now, it’s true that, for Oxford, 68.6% of 2020 home students were state educated, amounting to 55% overall, and that is the highest proportion of all time. But that means that the wealthiest 7% of the British population make up 25% of all Oxford undergraduates. As my opposition will point out, scholarships and bursaries exist, so it is hardly fair to brand all private-school students with the same brush, but if you look at Oxford’s intake from ACORN Categories 4 and 5 and POLAR Areas 1 and 2, which respectively denote areas that are poorer and have low access to higher education, the results are far more depressing and revealing, with 15.75% of home students (12.6% of all students) coming from these backgrounds. The problem of access runs deeper than the private vs state debate, and ought to be widened to include top grammar schools and the clear class divide between comprehensive schools in different areas.
So why does this mean we ought to ban the privately educated? Essentially, it would be a start. As a recent article in the Financial Times makes clear, there are private schools which run primarily on the basis of getting children into Oxbridge, and that is what the parents, teachers, and students expect. This may seem perfectly natural to a privileged few, but for the majority of the country, going to any university, let alone a prestigious one, is an aspiration rather than a given. In fact, I am in favour of banning private schools entirely: by definition they install segregation between rich and poor from a young and impressionable age.
If, however, Russell Group universities such as Oxford or the LSE were to actively make it more difficult for the privately educated, taking a stand against lifelong educational and economic privilege, then perhaps we would see an end to this system of social exclusion as Oxbridge-obsessed parents opt to take the risk of the local comp. It seems that the only way to get public services in this country improved is to have enough rich people rely on them (looking at you, HS2).This naturally will not happen under this public-school-produced government, in which nearly two thirds of the cabinet went to private school. BUT, it is about time that those of us from less-advantaged backgrounds stand up against this corrupt system. To make it clear though, this is not about punishing privately educated students and I agree that it would be unfair to implement this immediately; rather, this should be implemented within 7 years or so, enough time that parents can choose to send their child to a state high school instead. The aim is persuading posh parents to help end educational segregation, not to just rain hatred on everyone who happened to be sent to a private school.
LSE Class War has also come under fire for demanding the dissolution of the Hayek Society. For those of you lucky enough to not have interacted with the Oxford Hayek Society, it “advocates for free markets, civil liberties, private property, the rule of law and limited government” which, in practice, amounts to sharing right-wing conspiracy theories and anti-lockdown Telegraph articles on Facebook. From Class War’s point of view, the LSE Hayek Society, through its promotion of free market capitalism and small government, operates in direct opposition to the working classes. Add to this the fact that it is supported and promoted by the Student Union and they have a compelling case. A Student Union is just that, a Union – an explicitly left-wing organisation meant to enact social justice, something that is incompatible with the Hayek Society’s libertarian philosophy. Yes, the SU is there to represent all students, regardless of political opinion, but it ought to support and endorse societies which work with, rather than against, the ideas upon which the Union was founded.
Overall, LSE Class War is admirable in calling out the worst aspects of our top universities. Though Oxford certainly does not have the same left-wing history as the LSE, Class War’s message of defiance still ought to be replicated here. There has been enough representation of the economic elites in this institution to last us another thousand years. It is high time we stop inculcating the working classes with the belief that success is equivalent to a high-paying job which makes them a part of the system that made their own lives, and continues to make others’ lives, that much harder.