There is a serious problem with the future policy-makers. They’re too homogenous. I know because I am - in this very moment - surrounded by them, as I already was in Maastricht. Most of them are at least middle-class. Many of their parents work in related fields – in politics, diplomacy or international business. They may already have lived in different countries because of their parent’s jobs or did the obligatory gap year in Australia. I only knew two other peers whose parents weren’t academics, just like me. Who lived of welfare at some point in their lives. For our families, what we do and learn in university is quite foreign. We are exploring new lands, sometimes without their support. What people like us experience in university is nothing short of a culture shock. Our other peers – the future policy makers – could not understand. Because we - who were born ‘out’ and are now quite successfully moving ‘in’ - are rare.
But what does it mean to be ‘in’? It is what Yellow Vests, people who are angry over the US-college-bribing scandal, Pegida and anti-vaxers call “the elites”. It means different things for different people. But all has something to do with how much your parents earn and the average amount of time your family members spent in higher education. The probability of you becoming a plumber or cleaning lady are quite slim. Your parents won’t let that happen. And our European educational systems are on their side as they rather reproduce previous societal structures instead of levelling the playing field. When your parents are academics, you’ll be one.
And what has this to do with policy making? Well, when you are someone who is ‘out’, you have a huge problem when your future policy makers are all ‘in’. They do not understand you, your reality and your values. And vice-versa. Making policy drafted towards you and your needs becomes hard. Exposure to this inner-societal cultural rift through more diversity among policy-makers could change that. Could break up the dynamics of anti-elitism. But for this to happen we need to re-think how we produce elites. And whether we want societal status to maintain hereditary.
Asena Baykal, alumna European Studies