Terry Manyeh, co-author of the Educating All report into the barriers faced by working class students within higher education, responds to working class students being labeled as 'generation snowflake'.

Educating All, a youth-led project researching the barriers faced by working class students within higher education, found evidence that working class students at top UK universities simply do not view these institutions as places for them. Even once you're there, higher education is not a level playing field.

Some label students and universities aware of this problem as “snowflakes”. Are they right and are we in fact overacting? Should working class students just be more "robust"? Well, let us get into the facts.

The Educating All research details the significant and specific barriers, culturally and institutionally, that prevent working class students from achieving. When discussing cultural capital, we speak about the institutional culture that is often alien to working class students. In many cases the students we interviewed were the first of their peers or family to attend university and had little to no knowledge of the structures or exposure to the terminology used at these institutions.

What importance does this play? The culture at universities, especially those considered 'elite,' is often extremely different from that at the state schools previously attended by working class students. Many of the interviewees from the report spoke about not knowing how to navigate the systems in order to find the support available and often felt as if they were a burden if they did so. Some spoke about difficulties dealing with the elements of independence at university more familiar to those coming from private schools. 

There is firm evidence that working class young people with the same level of academic achievement up to that point are achieving lower outcomes at university, are more likely to drop out or suffer mental health issues. If a student has been "robust" enough to achieve well up to that point, we have to ask serious questions about what is going wrong at our universities.

People view universities as a catalyst for social mobility but they are essentially entrenching inequality by not addressing these matters. Even after university, working class students with the same qualifications as their better off peers are still likely to be paid on average £2,242 less.

It is time that working class students are taken seriously and rhetoric such as the ‘snow flake generation’ further fuels feelings of alienation and a lack of belonging.

“The tutorial system hugely benefits, both at interview and in university, people from private school backgrounds. Lets say you have a half hour tutorial with two people and one of them is from a private school and one of them is from a state school. The more the person from the private school wants to talk, the less the person from the state school wants to talk. If someone is going to engage more in tutorials, they are going to get more out of it, and the other person is going to suffer for it as well.” (Classics graduate, University of Oxford)

“The language teachers used was targeted at younger people; they were seemingly not aware I was there as a mature student”. (Psychology student, University of Manchester)

These comments from students taken from the report highlight the importance of communication and the barriers it can bring up.

A healthy academic environment is one where we are constantly testing our own language and forms of communication to challenge prejudices and inequalities that exist within it - if we can't be self-reflective at university where can we be? We should be able to cater to any number of diverse groups naturally, because we are striving to communicate in a way that is clearer, more inclusive and more effective. We can support universities in that process. It's as much about the method and context of communication as the words chosen. Students from private schools thrive at university in part because of the codes of behaviour that they have learned (made clear in the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission report of a couple of years ago about the "poshness test"). We look to universities to understand that there may be differing support needs to ensure people from all backgrounds can adapt to engage fully with university methods and opportunities.

Many universities are already making great strides on this agenda, and should be applauded for doing so, but it is clear that there is still work to do. Dismissing the issue as "generation snowflake" doesn't help us make sure the best higher education is truly available to everyone.