We’re a university with many NoHEFTs. This inelegant acronym describes those with ‘no higher education in the family tradition’. Many of those parents are so proud because their son or their daughter is the first in the family to collect this award. Some of my colleagues fit this category too, which is understandable since higher education has only expanded so rapidly in recent decades. Until very recently it was a minority preserve.
I’m proud to have had a graduate grandmother. She was born at the start of the last century and educated in the early 1920s. Higher education, remember, was a largely male preserve as late as the 1960s (now women outnumber men). Ironically, she wasn’t expected to work after marriage even though her husband was a humble bank clerk. Both my parents and both my sisters have degrees.
This isn’t social snobbery on my part. I’m from an educated background but not a wealthy one (I’ve the many Quakers in my family tree to thank for that). My other grandmother’s father was an illiterate dock worker in Hartlepool. Mass adult literacy only arrived in the late nineteenth century; mass access to higher education began in the late twentieth. The clock cannot be turned back; education is the driver for social mobility and change.