Fitting in at uni a matter of class

GAME ON: Newcastle University  Anime club members  during a board game night.  Picture: Peter Stoop
GAME ON: Newcastle University Anime club members during a board game night. Picture: Peter Stoop

Students from working-class backgrounds find it harder to make friends and integrate at university than middle-class students, a University of Newcastle researcher has found.

School of Psychology senior lecturer Dr Mark Rubin analysed international research and found working-class students participated less in university clubs, societies, social events and friendship groups than their middle-class counterparts.

His work is timely as the federal government tries to lift the proportion of students from a low socio-economic background in study.

The University of Newcastle has the third-highest proportion of disadvantaged students in Australia.

Dr Rubin’s work was published in the US Journal of Diversity in Higher Education.

Dr Rubin said working-class students could be left out for both personal and institutional reasons.

For example, students from poor backgrounds could have more self-reliance or anxiety about meeting middle-class students.

‘‘It is possible that there is an element of direct social exclusion [on both sides],’’ he said. ‘‘We tend to make friends with people who are similar to ourselves.’’

Students could also face a lack of affordable housing, transport, childcare or social activities, he said.

Dr Rubin said integration was important because students would help support and inspire each other, especially if they were the first in their family at university.

‘‘When a working-class student falls ill and asks their parents what to do about a late assignment, their parents may shrug,’’ he said.

‘‘But middle-class parents who’ve been at uni are likely to suggest applying for an extension.’’

Dr Rubin said there was clear evidence social integration impacted a students’ academic performance.

Making friends was also important to graduates’ job prospects, he said.

‘‘[It] can lead to changes in students’ attitudes, articulateness, dress sense, sociability, and team spiritedness,’’ he said. ‘‘I don’t think that there’s a one-size-fits-all solution.’’