Attempts to increase social mobility have traditionally concentrated on equipping members of particular socio-economic groups with the skills to progress within society e.g. though better states schools in deprived areas or by widening access to universities. The idea has been to try to give young people from less privileged backgrounds the same characteristics, experiences and opportunities as the children of white, middle-class parents; in the expectation that they will then fare as well as their middle-class peers.
This approach faces considerable problems, though, in overcoming the disadvantages arising from early upbringing, home environment, cultural effects etc. It also, even if successful, simply means expanding the pool of people with middle class occupational preferences and educational background – so leading, for example, to more graduates of a certain type chasing a particular range of graduate jobs. In this competitive environment, middle-class advantages of well-connected parents, family support to pursue unpaid internships etc all work to reverse any social mobility gains.
An alternative (or complementary) approach is to change the nature of tertiary and higher education so as to lead to better outcomes in terms of social mobility i.e. to gear these sectors to the preferences and characteristics of the generality of the population rather than the traditional middle-class. This could involve greatly expanding vocational education and training at the expense of more theoretical, academic subjects. Such an approach could be expected to have wider economic benefits as well as benefiting people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Those exiting tertiary and higher education would be better prepared to enter a wider number of occupations, thus making it easier for individuals from all socio-economic backgrounds to progress within society in accordance with their ability and industry.