Widening participation in the 17th century

Before heading out to a conference in Maine (on the north atlantic coast of USA) I visited a couple of museums that are part of Harvard University. Now Harvard is one of the most prestigious, and one of the richest universities in the world. Wikipedia reckons its endowment is $26 billion (£16 billion). Harvard is just outside Boston, in Cambridge (this is Cambridge, Massachusetts not Cambridge in England of course).

I learnt that shortly after it was founded, it had an Indian College. Here indian means what we would now call native americans (i.e., indian as in Big Chief Sitting Bull not indian as in chicken korma).

This was in the 17th century. Even then it was appreciated that to integrate different people and to allow disadvantaged (by having their land taken by settlers in this case) people to get ahead, a good integrated education is needed, where the sons of all could receive a good education together.

I would say that this is still true almost 400 years later. I was the first member of my family to go to university and without going I would not be an academic. Not doing a job I enjoy, and not writing this blog. On other hand my colleague Ben Murdin is a second generation academic, his dad is a physics professor too. I really like how even the playing field is in science, it does not matter if your dad was a cabinet maker or a physics prof.

Nowadays, the problem with keeping the playing field as level as possible for all people, not just scientists, is often down to money. In England fees are sadly trebling, and at Harvard they are already $35,000 (which is £22,000 at the current exchange rate) a year. But English universities, and Harvard, offer financial help, and in England the fees are basically just a graduate tax. You just pay more tax when you are earning more than £21,000 until you pay off the debt. I hope as few people as possible are put off from applying, as a physics degree opens so many doors, in research but also into IT and computing, finance etc.