UWCs Must Not Neglect Socioeconomic Diversity


by Jeppe Damberg, United World College Maastricht
26th May, 2018


According to the BBC, a study from the London School of Economics and the University of Bristol looked at the attitudes of 4,000 teenagers in English state schools and concluded that the more mixed the school, the warmer feelings pupils are likely to have towards other races and ethnicities.
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Professor Simon Burgess of the University of Bristol said it showed how schools could change social attitudes. The study examined young people’s attitudes towards people of other ethnicities – such as whether they had friends from other racial groups.
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The study reflects the positive effects of diversity in schooling, something UWC prides itself with as a core of the UWC mission. But diversity has more aspects than just ethnicity. With rising inequalities in incomes globally, diversity in income is equally important. In 1966, the US Congress authorised “the Coleman Report” and fuelled a debate still relevant today. The Coleman Report, also known as “Equality of Educational Opportunity”, presented findings that suggested inequalities in school funding had little effect on student achievement. Instead, the report found that student background and socioeconomic status were more important in determining educational outcomes of a student. Additionally, differences in the quality of schools and teachers was found to have a small positive impact on student outcomes. The Coleman Report used these findings as evidence to suggest that socioeconomic school integration could increase academic achievement more than any other school strategy.
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Kurt Hahn took notice of the benefits of socioeconomic diversity too. Before founding United World College, Kurt Hahn was dean of the famous German boarding school “Schule Schloss Salem”. The values of Salem were very similar to our movement’s. Hahn, however, outlined one principle that he did not include in UWC’s core values later – at least not in its literal form. One of his “Seven Laws of Salem” was to “free the sons of the wealthy and powerful from the enervating sense of privilege.” Kurt Hahn believed that social classes in the 1920ies and 30ies had become so isolated that their division undermined the greater good of society. He thought that a person’s entitlement to something often meant the exclusion of others to be allowed similar privilege. Kurt Hahn firmly believed in equality of opportunity, and, though his Seventh Law of Salem did not literally carry over to UWC’s core values, the United World College organisation states that “the UWC education should be independent of the student’s socioeconomic means.” If income or wealth becomes a barrier to be a part of our movement, then how can we possibly follow Hahn’s lead in “uniting young people from all backgrounds on the basis of their shared humanity?”
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Since the Coleman Report, many studies have presented similar findings and the argument for socioeconomic integration has grown stronger. It is evident that the UWC colleges bring students from all socioeconomic backgrounds to the colleges through scholarship programmes and provide students with much support from universities offices and Davis Scholarships on their journey to college, but now some of the colleges have seen an increase in what is known as “direct students”, which is a trend that may undermine the socioeconomic diversity on campuses.
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“Direct students” apply directly to the school, circumventing the National Committee selection process while paying a full fee often more than 27000 euros a year. This direct application process has grown increasingly popular as it provides some of the colleges with a steady stream of funding. But this increase of direct students, when not accompanied by an increase in the amount of economically poorer students, undermines the economic diversity of our colleges. The “UWC Strategy 2018 and Beyond”‘s executive summary acknowledges this trend: “perhaps the biggest challenge is to ensure UWC’s financial sustainability while reconfirming our commitment to deliberate diversity, in particular socioeconomic diversity.” Indeed, it the strategy indicates that leadership is aware of the effects of direct applications:
“achieving socioeconomic diversity has proven more challenging, particularly when scholarship funding was limited. Contact theory tells us that in order to effectively address prejudice and achieve lasting trust and connection, diverse groups need to meet at eye-level with no particular group being dominant. Continuous focus and hard work are required in order to ensure – at least in all UWC residential programmes – a socioeconomically diverse spectrum of students with no dominant group – neither rich, nor poor, nor middle-class. The UWC national committees will, through their geographic diversity, play the key role in achieving this, but we also need to ensure that schools and colleges have access to funding to ensure they do not have to default to direct admission of full fee paying IBDP residential students to guarantee their financial sustainability.”
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To tackle socioeconomic diversity a new criteria has been introduced that set clear benchmarks for socioeconomic diversity as measured by the proxy of scholarship provision, but the strategy gives no clarity on to what degree and within what timeframe the already established UWC schools and colleges should aim to meet these criteria given their specific institutional, financial, cultural and historic circumstances. It simply states that “individual trajectories will have to be discussed, developed and ultimately implemented for each UWC school and college to meet the objectives of this strategy.”
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On campuses however, it is important not to vilify these “direct students” as their approach to the UWC education does not differ from any student who has been through a National Committee selection process. Additionally, students belonging to families with higher incomes also come through the National Committee. Yet, the colleges must recognise the effects of this trend and follow the spirit of the UWC Strategy 2018 and Beyond. The colleges need quickly decide upon their individual objectives in ensuring socioeconomic diversity. Perhaps, we could extend the responsibility of the National Committees to guarantee diversity in direct applicants or establish committees to ensure the socioeconomic diversity of students at the established schools. If we neglect to do anything we may jeopardize the diversity that United World Colleges holds.
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If the UWC movement wishes to champion diversity, it must continue and develop its focus on economic diversity and not neglect it in its search for funds. A strategy of economic integration should be developed at each college and its process transparently implemented.

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