The education divide is about disrespect: why it matters and what graduates should do about it

In a guest essay for the Social Market Foundation, former cabinet minister the Rt Hon Stowell of Beeston explains why the gap between graduates and non-graduates is one of the most important divides in British society and culture today - and why it must close.

  • Disrespect causes disruption – Decision-makers and people with influence urgently need to address the deficit in respect between graduates and those without a degree, recognising that the emphasis on high-level qualifications has been at the expense of other credentials necessary for any definition of success to be worthy of respect.
  • Character builds bridges – Character is the equaliser which extends across all ranks. It encourages common and simple standards of behaviour in the way that we apply our respective knowledge. In a complex world we look for something familiar to help us judge who and what to trust. Common standards allow us to hold each other to account, and the authority for doing so needs to be far more widespread.
  • Intelligence achieves results – If we are to gain the full advantage of a truly diverse workforce, we need more work settings where graduates and non-graduates are working closely together, treated as equals and – because of the way that they apply their respective knowledge and the character they show in the job – enjoy equal opportunity to progress. That means today’s bosses (who are predominantly graduates) need to recognise and respect different forms of knowledge and intelligence.
  • Mutual respect is how to achieve more – The education divide is a proxy for respect. It’s a mutual respect gap. Not directly for each of us as individuals, but for the common standards necessary for us each to fulfil our potential, and to live and work together successfully to achieve more.


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