The role of intergenerational relationships in challenging educational inequality: improving participation of working-class pupils in higher education

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Analysis of data on school leavers in the UK points to considerable inequality in access to higher education. This is particularly acute in Scotland where access to the most competitive courses remains extremely difficult for those young people who are first in their generation to try and enter university or from low-income households. Programs to address this issue have had varied approaches framed around policy ambitions to “close the attainment gap” or “raise aspirations.” However, research has argued that these approaches have largely conceptualized the problem at an individual rather than structural level (Cummings et al., 2012; Gorard, Beng, & Davies, 2012). The Intergenerational Mentoring Network is an ongoing research and development project which recruits retired professionals as volunteer mentors and matches them with 15–18 year old secondary school pupils from lower-income areas of the city. This paper draws from research within this project to demonstrate the difficulties these young people face surrounding their interaction with very different social and cultural worlds, of which they have limited understanding and very restricted access. The paper illuminates the crucial role that intergenerational relationships can play in supporting young people in their journey into higher education. These are roles that, collectively, are enabling more young people to move into university and professional careers and through increasing social mobility are challenging inequality.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-25
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Intergenerational Relationships
Issue number1
Early online date22 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018


  • intergenerational inequality
  • social inequality
  • mentoring
  • education
  • young people
  • social mobility

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