OU Vice-Chancellor: Brexit vote highlights social inequality

The Vice-Chancellor of The Open University, Peter Horrocks, has used a keynote speech to highlight a link between levels of degree attainment and how parts of the UK voted in the referendum.

Addressing the Forum for Access and Continuing Education (FACE) Annual Conference in Belfast, Mr Horrocks called on the government to address the “national affront” of educational and social division.  He cited research which showed that in the top 20 Remain areas, the percentage of residents with a degree is 45%, while the figure in the 20 highest Leave areas is just 16%.

Mr Horrocks talked of the potential impact of the referendum on the higher education sector, and on the OU in particular.

“Naturally we are deeply concerned for our many staff from the other countries of the EU who have been feeling hurt and rejected by the vote. To them we are giving all the support possible and hope that their long term status here will be maintained. And of course we are focused on other direct consequences such as EU students and research income.”

 'National affront'

Open University Vice-Chancellor Peter Horrocks

Peter Horrocks

Turning to analysis conducted by Matthew Goodwin, Professor of Politics at the University of Kent, Mr Horrocks said the figures showed three times the rate of degree attainment in one set of authority areas than another. He said:

“To be frank, that degree of education and social division is a national affront. And of course those poor educational outcomes feed directly into low skills, low income consequences for communities leading to resentments that, quite understandably, may be directed at outsiders and immigrants. In turn leading to the divisions in attitude which have fed the highly damaging national cleavage over Brexit. Thus educational disparity is both a consequence and a cause of national political division. It is deeply unhealthy and it is something that a new government needs urgently to address.”

Long-term lessons

After outlining some of the policy measures The Open University has been campaigning for as part of the government’s review of lifetime learning, Mr Horrocks concluded by calling on whoever becomes the new Prime Minister not to ignore the long-term lessons of the referendum.

He said: “The UK is a nation of profound social and economic disparity which is causing national division. Improved education of adults and the existing workforce is one of the most immediate and direct ways to address that…

“…I urge all of us and our national leaders to commit to using the Brexit vote as a moment when we all work to address national social and economic division.”

The full text of the speech is available here.