An important strand of research within the sociology of higher education concerns the effects of system expansion on inequalities. International comparative studies of system expansion tend to show that rather than eradicate inequality, growth instead changes the ways in which inequalities are manifested. For instance, Lucas (2001) argues that inequalities in higher education are maximally maintained, since increased access for disadvantaged groups is accompanied by increases in tracking. Building on this research, it has been suggested that there is a strengthening of institutional stratification, whereby different types of institution acquire different symbolic value, leading to unequal labour market (and other) outcomes (Shavit et al, 2007; Boliver, 2011, Wakeling and Savage, 2015). Variant institutional pathways are prominent in Turner’s (1960) model for explain patterns of social mobility and reproduction. He points to systems of contest mobility, whereby educational progression is a ‘tournament’ open to all; and sponsored mobility, where to be successful, one needs to be admitted to the ‘club’ by existing members.
These ideas are investigated in relation to entry to the professoriate – the pinnacle of an academic career and a position of high cultural status (and relatively good economic returns to the individual). It is known that there is structuring of entry to first-degree institution by social class background (Boliver, 2011; Bourdieu, 1996; Triventi, 2013) and into doctoral study by first-degree institution (Wakeling, 2009; Wakeling and Hampden-Thompson, 2013). There exist some studies of academics’ backgrounds, but these tend to be either focused on the most elite group (e.g. Choobbasti, 2007), or are now quite dated (e.g. Halsey, 1992). Very little is therefore known about the structure of institutional pathways which lead to the professoriate, despite the rapid expansion of the number of professors alongside the general rapid expansion of universities across the last 50 years. Is it the case that professors represent a broad institutional base of prior study? Or do they instead hold qualifications from a narrow traditional set of universities, which in turn means a narrow social profile among the professoriate. Are opportunities to enter the professoriate strongly determined by the first-degree university, or are they more open?
My presentation explores this question in relation to the British case. The UK has seen rapid expansion in the number of professors since the 1960s. Between 2004/05 and 2014/15, numbers grew by over one third. Much of this growth however has come from non-UK nationals, many of them EU citizens. In the same period, the number of EU nationals holding a UK professorial post increased by more than 200%. This group may have followed different pathways to native professors, or perhaps have trodden equivalent paths in their country of origin. They may alternatively show evidence of being global academics, attending a particular tier of high-status self-consciously ‘world class’ universities which have emerged in recent years and which are connected to broader processes of global class formation (Marginson, 2016).
I investigate the institutional background (first degree, masters and doctorate) of current UK professors. In doing so, I pay attention to the possible confounding effect of subject discipline. It is known that different disciplines have different size, shape and also ‘culture’ (Becher and Trowler, 2001). Accordingly, I structure my investigation following Biglan’s (1973) four-way categorization of disciplines in a hard-soft, pure-applied matrix.
Becher, T. and Trowler, P. R. 2001 Academic Tribes and Territories: Intellectual Inquiry and the Culture of the Disciplines (2nd edition). Buckingham: SRHE and Open University Press. Biglan, A. 1973 ‘Relationships between subject matter characteristics and the structure and output of university departments’, Journal of Applied Psychology, 57 (3): 204 – 213. Boliver, V. 2011 ‘Expansion, differentiation, and the persistence of social class inequalities in British higher education’, Higher Education, 61 (3): 229 – 242. Bourdieu, P. 1996 The State Nobility: Elite Schools in the Field of Power. Cambridge: Polity Press. Choobbasti, H. J. 2007 ‘The social origins of eminent scientists: A review, comparison and discussion’, Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 25 (3): 233 – 243. Halsey, A. H. 1992 The Decline of Donnish Dominion: the British Academic Professions in the Twentieth Century. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Lucas, S. R. 2001 ‘Effectively maintained inequality: education transitions, track mobility and social background effects’, American Journal of Sociology, 106 (6): 1642 – 1690. Marginson, S. 2016 ‘The worldwide trend to high participation higher education: dynamics of social stratification in inclusive systems’, Higher Education, DOI: 10.1007/s10734-016-0016-x Mills, D., Jepson, A., Coxon, A., Easterby-Smith, M., Hawkins, P. and Spencer, J. 2006 Demographic Review of the UK Social Sciences. Swindon: Economic and Social Research Council. Shavit, Y., Arum, R. and Gamoran, A. (2007). Stratification in Higher Education: a Comparative Study. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Triventi, M. 2013 ‘Stratification in Higher Education and Its Relationship with Social Inequality: A Comparative Study of 11 European Countries’, European Sociological Review, 29 (3): 489 – 502. Turner, R. H. 1960 ‘Sponsored and contest mobility in the school system’, American Sociological Review, 25 (6): 855 – 867. Wakeling, P. 2009 Social Class and Access to Postgraduate Education in the UK: a Sociological Analysis. PhD thesis. The University of Manchester. Wakeling, P. and Hampden-Thompson, G. 2013 Transition to Higher Degrees Across the UK: an Analysis of National, Institutional and Individual Differences, York: Higher Education Academy. Wakeling, P. and Savage, M. 2015 ‘Entry to elite positions and the stratification of higher education in Britain’, Sociological Review, 63 (2): 290 – 320.
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