25th January 2013, 1:32pm
First in the family: 150 personal stories of how university changed lives
Students working in the library The power of higher education to transform the lives of people from working class backgrounds is celebrated in a new book by the Vice Chancellor of the University of Lincoln.

Professor Mary Stuart presents a series of personal vignettes from 150 people who became the first in their family to study at university during the last half century.

Social Mobility and Higher Education: The life experiences of first generation entrants in higher education is published by Trentham Books (2012). It is the culmination of a long term research project which began with an appeal for people working in higher education to present autobiographical accounts of how getting a degree changed their life chances.

Professor Stuart takes a life history approach, using their personal accounts to consider what these personal experiences say about broader changes in British society and culture since the Second World War.

She follows the authors’ moves, often from poor communities, and analyses their perceptions of their changed social positions and the effect on their identity, linking this to wider debates about our increasingly mobile world.

Professor Stuart said: “The dialogue about the merits of higher education has become heavily politicised in recent years and, to some extent, we as a society may have lost sight of all that higher education can offer.
“In this book, I have tried to illustrate how higher education can and does transform the life chances of individual people from the humblest of backgrounds.
“The book charts the history of the growth of higher education in the UK through the eyes of people who were the first in their families to go to university.
“The message that if you have talent and ambition, then you will have the chance to apply it, regardless of your postcode or parents’ income, is really fundamental to having a fair, meritocratic and prosperous society. The repercussions of pulling up the ladder for a new generation of young people could be very serious for our society.”

The Milburn Report on social mobility highlighted the lack of progress made in the UK towards opening up the higher echelons of the professions (particularly law, media, medicine and politics) to people from less privileged backgrounds. It describes how universities have made progress on supporting social mobility but that more can and should be done.

Professor Mary Stuart joined the University of Lincoln as Vice Chancellor in 2009 and has been an advocate of the role higher education performs in supporting social mobility. She was Deputy Vice Chancellor at Kingston University for four years and a Pro Vice Chancellor at the University of Sussex between 2000 and 2005. She is a graduate of the University of Cape Town and the Open University, where she obtained her Doctorate in Social Policy in 1998. Her research interests are focused on life histories, social mobility, higher education students and community development.
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