Classicism and Accent Prejudice in UK

Nazia Parveen, in Guardian, reports on investigation into widespread evidence that students are being ridiculed over their backgrounds. October 2020.

Universities must act to eradicate discrimination against working-class students, including the mockery of regional accents, equality campaigners have said.

A Guardian investigation has found widespread evidence of students at some of the country’s leading universities being ridiculed over their accents and backgrounds, in some cases prompting them to leave education.

The analysis found discrimination against working-class students was particularly prevalent among Russell Group universities. The group, which is made up of 24 institutions, has a reputation for academic excellence.

In a series of Guardian interviews, students past and present reported bullying and harassment over their accents and working-class backgrounds. Some said their academic ability was questioned because of the way they spoke.

The Social Mobility Commission (SMC), , which monitors progress in improving social mobility in the UK, described the situation as unacceptable and said accents had become a “tangible barrier” for some students.

This week the Guardian reported complaints of a “toxic attitude” towards some northern students at Durham University. Last month the university launched an inquiry after wealthy prospective freshers reportedly planned a competition to have sex with the poorest student they could find. 

But experiences of classism and accent prejudice are not confined to Durham, said Sammy Wright, the lead commissioner on schools and higher education for the SMC. He said the government body had spent 18 months examining the differing chances for young people based on where they come from. 

“We found an entrenched pattern in certain areas where social mobility is very low, and often the only way to grasp opportunities involved moving away from where they were brought up – to go to university or find jobs,” said Wright, who is also vice-principal of Southmoor Academy in Sunderland.

“But we also found that social and economic disadvantage often hampered any chance to move out. Accent is a part of this, alongside cultural capital and social networks. In my own work in schools in the north-east, accent can become a marker of everything else, a tangible barrier – most of all to the young people themselves, who internalise a sense of social inferiority.”

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