Are Universities mollycoddling students? An alternative to mass media’s interpretation of increasing first class degrees.

The press association surveys suggested that it is now more common for students to achieve a first class degree than it is to achieve a second class lower (2.2)

Teddy for uni 1st class

The BBC has decided to use to words of Nick Hillman- the head of the higher education policy institute to give a weighted, and in my opinion insulting, judgement as to why students are now achieving the best results at such a higher percentage than in previous years.

Mr Hillman suggests that the fact that universities can now award their own levels of degree grades means they are likely to give “as many firsts as they like” in order to make their university have a positive image and be higher on the university ladder and as a result have a higher chance of getting more funding.

Whilst this is logical to some extent, there are certainly more rational reasons to suggest this increase. Political and social changes have meant that it is now costing students around £9,250 (as of 2017) for higher education. Comparing the results of first class degrees in 1994 (seen below), it wouldn’t be wrong to argue that there could be a link between tuition fees being introduced in 1998 and escalating at a phenomenal rate in 19 years, and a number of 1st class degrees that have been on the rise since.  With the amount of stress and also the current job market situation, it means that unless you are aiming for a first and 2:1 it makes some students believe there is almost no point in getting a degree. This is even more apparent when looking for work, it’s clear that businesses are only interested in students who achieve marks at the high end of the spectrum. As a result, only those that believe they will achieve the top grades are more likely to go to university. Compared to 1994, this wouldn’t be the case, those that were unlikely to achieve would still consider university because of the opportunity of getting a degree as well as the lack of a backlash in monetary cost. (And also the maintenance grant which was basically free money for going to into higher education….imagine….a world where you basically get paid to go to university!)

The fact that the BBC has decided to take this stance and express this viewpoint is quite demeaning for students who do achieve high marks. The effort and sleepless nights making sure their dissertation is the best it could be is tarnished by the mass media claiming we are “give(n)” these degrees and not achieving them through merit and hard work. It is this type of attitude which keeps the idea of students being stereotypically seen as lazy and not having to work hard in society but instead goes into university for 8 hours per week and in the meantime, live off the taxpayer’s money. This perspective also brings up the idea of a university being a product which we pay for. If we pay this absurd money, then the university is going to be more lenient and gives us better grades, once again another institution that gives hints towards consumerism.

Another argument I would like to point out is the policies introduced regarding our age before leaving education. With age being lifted to 18, it gives young people more incentive and knowledge before going into higher education and those that necessarily didn’t want to go to university at 16 may see the benefits of such opportunity and takes the plunge into debt. As a result, more students are more likely to be ready and prepared for university life because of the increase of our leaving age from education.

1st class degree graph
Source: BBC

When I did some research into this, the number of students applying for university according to UCAS is actually decreasing. Compared to last year there has been a 5% decrease which also brings some interesting thoughts to this topic. Despite the lowering number of applications, there has been a phenomenal increase in 1st class degrees, which put two and two together, suggests that as mentioned above, only students who believe they are more capable of achieving higher grades will attend university because of the risk and debt that will face all students. Therefore it may not be the idea that students are being gifted these degrees as first mentioned in this post.

When looking at the HESA graph that was published in a BBC article last week (seen below), it does show a steady increase from 1994 to 2010- a rise of 7%. But from 2010 (when tuition fees trebled from £3K per year to £9K per year) the percentage of increase was 10%. These last seven years then have contributed to 60% of the overall increase over the past 23 years. Again, the dedication and risk that students must take and ultimately achieve are more than likely going to affect degree results and the level of applications more than just universities dishing out firsts class degrees.

Once again it seems that the mass media are trying to make darkness and what should be a light situation, especially because of the darkness university has been brought under thanks to all three of the main political parties. It isn’t simply a case of students feeling like now more than even they need to perform and those that feel they can’t won’t apply, but instead our higher education giving out basically false firsts in order for them to get a little higher on the university ladder, which I believe is hard to believe regardless. If every university is doing this then it will do nothing for their status. This is because those around them are dishing the firsts just as much as you are, meaning that both the university and the students will be affected negatively because of the value of the degree becoming useless as a result.





Why the excessive highlighting of health problems aren’t enough to eliminate cigarettes: A sociological look into cigarette’s part 2

Before looking at this post, I strongly recommend reading part 1 of this piece of writing. Not just because of the cliché point of the two being linked, but also because it is a much more detailed and explanatory piece of writing compared to what you’re about to see here. This part will continue on the structure of class and it determines who is more likely to smoke and the reasons for it. As mentioned in part one, people are not stupid and are clearly aware of the health implications smoking can cause, but because of our fondness to having habits and also being part of a social group (such as a group of teenagers rebelling against parent control) which can even encourage smokers further toward the spiral of nicotine addiction. At the end of this piece, there will also be an argument as to how the newest in smoking fashion, known as E-cigs, are pretty much in social terms, the same as cigarettes in terms of how they are represented in society.

However, before we look into the idea of class structure, it must be pointed out that other structures and factors such as ethnicity, gender and age can also be looked at in the same perspective of class. It is these factors which health experts seek to gain knowledge of and use as a marker for how bad cigarettes are for you when taking in different characteristics and contexts. It is precisely this reason why sociology can help to play a part in this issue. Sociology can research these different groups and determine, based on social theories and research, why different groups may choose to smoke in different numbers and frequencies. When the answer to this question is answered, health experts can then use that information to determine how lifestyles and contexts become a catalyst for how much someone smokes. And then (if all goes to plan), health experts can target all the specific groups in their own way through advertising through smoke-free campaigns in order to appeal to the smokers in a unique and collective manner which makes those social groups aware of the dangers of smoking. Or alternatively, to try and change the lifestyles and social group’s characteristics whereby smoking is not a common stress reliever and attempt to taboo the act of smoking similar to chewing Tabaco.

When looking at class more specifically, qualitative research conducted on working class smokers typically used the reasons of stress from work and childcare, the boredom and mundane feelings as a result of long term unemployment, a lack of assets and material goods for pleasure being factors that contribute to levels of smoking, which makes smoking in working class communities a normal everyday act of self-pleasure. When looking at society as a whole then, could it be argued that the decreasing working class communities (which is arguably the case in the UK currently) are just one factor as to why the levels of smokers overall have also decreased in the UK? Possibly. But this research also supports the idea of the importance of sociology. By finding out the “why” of the act of smoking in working class communities, it then allows prevention mechanisms and policies to take place to prevent smoking in the future. One prevention could be to try and make messages of the dangers of smoking more situated within working class environments.

Not only do working class communities use smoking as a self-pleasured act in order to get through the day, it is also used as a form of currency. Since the normal form of currency of money is much more limited compared to other classes, cigarettes are just one example of currency the working class can use in exchange for personal loan debts and also as forms of gifts. This use of cigarettes encourages smoking cigarettes as it is a good substitute and in some cases can have a higher value of worth compared to actual money, cutting out the middle man of actually buying the cigarettes in a shop for example. Therefore in order to reduce the numbers of smokers, another battle could be making cigarettes less valuable to working class communities and making sure money is the clear form of currency in all communities, but as you’ve probably thought, if money was the clearest form of currency in the first place and was more accessible, than cigarettes wouldn’t have such an influence. This I agree.

When looking at smoking advertisements in mainstream media, it gives the impression of smoking for working class people being a stereotype. The idea that smoking is for the uneducated and the insensitive, for example, smoking in front of children or when pregnant, ties in nicely with other characteristics that are labelled within working class communities such as being “on the dole” and being a teenage mother. All these labels make it even more difficult for working class areas to decrease levels of smoking, not because they are stupid, but because no one is going to tell them any different because it is to be expected and is part of the stereotype. For example, a “7 steps out” poster found on the internet (which won’t be posted on here due to Copyright) is located in what looks like a working class neighbourhood with a green car that certainly isn’t part of the 2017 car range. These small notices make it seem like the smoking problem is part of an identity of being working class and a problem for the working class as a result.

But it’s not just working class people that smoke. Those that are considered middle class who smoke are regularly hiding and keeping their addiction a secret since it isn’t part of what is now considered a middle-class trait. Being spotted in the act is more than likely going to produce a master label where they will then be identified as a “smoker” with links towards insensitivity and a lack of education, simply because it isn’t expected of typical middle class

PUB pic no ecigs
Recently spotted in a local pub, similar treatment to cigarettes.

But then I thought to myself, well what about the newest phenomena that have hit the streets over the past 2 years? E-cigs are arguably the 21st-century cigarettes. With being both healthier for yourself and for others around you as well as all the extravagant flavours available, some of which even I agree does have a certain smell of strawberry or sweetness about them, is it possible that these are going to be accepted, unlike cigarettes? In short, No. Smoking E-cigs are still just as stigmatised and labelled as a working class act just as much as cigarettes. The best example of this is the fact that all shops and restaurants and businesses are very unlikely going to allow them within their vicinity. Despite it not being in breach of the smoke-free legislation act 2007, it still connotes insensitivity and is more than likely going to be taken unpleasantly by customers. By doing this it means that smoking E-cigs must be done outside or within a smoking area, whereby you might as well smoke a regular cigarette. By not doing so is more than likely going to marginalise the smoker even further than usual because you aren’t smoking a traditional cigarette. These policies by businesses, as a result, give it a familiarity to smoking cigarettes and will, therefore, have the same negative social impact. As well as this the actual e-cig itself carries the same conventions of that of cigarette smoking. The technique, the shape, the smoke itself, as well as the end result of self-pleasure and feeding a nicotine addiction allows society to be able to label it the same as cigarettes and thus gives it the same taboo.

When looking at cigarettes as a whole, the decrease of cigarettes in the main has come from health warnings and advancements in technology. But despite this, the number has still not decreased to zero. As well as this the age demographic of smokers should be based on older people where smoking was frowned upon as much less than today, but as we all know this isn’t the case. The idea of social factors such as socioeconomic discussed in this blog, allows sociology to attempt to answer the gaps in smokers that scientists and smoke campaigns have failed to. By looking at sociological viewpoints, it can not only give an insight into why certain groups smoke but as a result of this perhaps gives an opportunity for social scientists,  anti-smoking campaigns and physiological scientists (biology and physiology) to work together to extinguish smoking once and for all.

Why the excessive highlighting of health problems aren’t enough to eliminate cigarettes: A sociological look into cigarette’s part 1

Throughout the 19th and early 20th century, cigarette smoking was a cheap and quick luxury that combated the stress of everyday life. The idea that it was in fact a very dangerous substance containing an addictive substance of nicotine and tar that could serious to serious health problems was not an issue back in those days. However, thanks to advancements in technology and medicine we now know the dangers and life threatening illnesses that may lead from it. Due to this there has been (as expected) a huge decline in the number of smokers which is still going down today. The dangers of smoking and policies brought in by government (such as the smoking in work spaces in 2007 and laws which highlight the dangers of smoking, such as TV and film advertisements and health warnings on packaging) have played a massive role in this decline. However, the social impacts of smoking and the stigma that is now attached to this act as a result have not been highlighted into society, this could be the killer blow in stopping smoking altogether similar to chewing Tabaco, in which Houston (1986) points out that Tabaco became socially unacceptable as a result of spitting being considered as “uncouth”.  As a result, smoking is likely to have the same manner, especially because of the high levels of butts that are littered around every street you walk on!

As mentioned before, Smoking is a simple and easy substance that is addictive and has symbolic meanings which has enhanced its popularity more so than Tobacco. This symbolic meaning can vary depending on the context and the situation. Teenagers smoking in order to show their independence against their parents, similar to getting a tattoo, is an example of such symbolism. But yet in another context, smoking can be seen as a “capper” to a great evening, a way to top of a great evening such as a meal or as seen in many television shows and films, smoking cigarettes after having sex. The symbolic meaning in these acts however, come from smoking with other people in the room, giving a symbol of pleasure or agreement to others without actually saying it. It is examples like these that have given cigarettes a much higher profile than other forms of smoking.

images of cig for article

So why is the discipline of sociology looking at cigarettes important today?

Despite the huge decline in cigarette smokers over the decades (from 51% in 1974 to 17% in 2016 according to the NOS), there is arguably still more that can be done in order to reduce numbers further as well as being able to explain why the percentage of smokers is the number it is. As well as this, sociology can also attempt to explain how the numbers have decreased from looking at how society’s attitudes towards cigarettes has shifted over the decades. In other words, we need to understand the social consequences smoking cigarettes has as well as the physiological dangers that are so heavily emphasized within smoke free campaigns and policies which try to highlight these. “Here, the case is advanced that social scientists, equipped with the theoretical and methodological resources to understand the social context and distribution of smoking are ideally placed to help advance a public health agenda.” (Marron, 2016, P1-2).

When taking a look at smoking cigarettes from this angle, it opens a new perspective on smoking that is hidden behind the physiological dangers that are implemented when any talk about cigs are mentioned in a negative way.

When having a look at how cigs got to where they are today, the First World War and world of modernity and eventually post modernity seen today played a heavy part. The fast paced and often hectic world that people live in today as well as over a decade ago, made cigarettes a vital and almost routine way of “relaxing” during the rush of the last two centuries. The anxiety and morale of soldiers during the Great War was actually highly weighed upon cigarettes which were used to prevent hunger and to escape the horrors that occurred during that time, if only briefly. This use of cigarettes are used similarly today (although nowhere near on the scale of the Great War), such as trying to fit in to a new group or social situation which can cause anxiety. These types of uses for cigarettes were very much a way of escapism and self-control instead of a luxury which was its sole purpose when being brought into production. Although these acts of using cigarettes as a coping mechanism are still seen today, it is not as well regarded as a way of coping with troubles as it was in the past. This is especially the case when comparing social class. Working class are “stereotypically” (I use this heavily!) more prone to smoking than other higher classes due to their lack of education and mentality of just getting through the day after being exploited through the capitalist system. And by smoking cigarettes this is again a coping mechanism of this, not only to destress, but to also knock off a couple of minutes in the day and to make the day go that bit quicker. It is these actions and exploitation of the working class that I believe Marron is talking about when he mentions the following. “Habit exists as a property of relationships, contexts and things rather than individuals” (Marron, 2016, P6). By this he means that the way in which society has shaped our life, it has basically led us to a path that means smoking at some point is of a much higher chance because of the social situation you’re in. For example, being in a dead end job with no future in sight means that you’re more likely to smoke as it gives you something to look forward to whilst at work and makes you just about bare work without going insane or going on an all-out revolution to overthrow the capitalist society in which we find ourselves arguably being massively exploited. (Bit over the top I admit, but it gives you an insight into my ideology I suppose!).

When looking further at cigarettes from a sociological point of view it does have similar characteristics to that of Becker’s work in marijuana use. Becker argued that the act of smoking marijuana had to be learned in order to enjoy effects. He argued that there were three key stages in order to “become” a user. First, smoking it in a way that will produce real effects, learning to recognise the effects and connect with those effects and lastly learning to enjoy those effects that have been recognised. This is similar to cigarettes and other forms of smoking, especially when those that are trying it for the first time, end up having a coughing fit as they don’t know how to enjoy or use the cigarette properly yet.

However, expanding on this point, when a smoker then knows how to embrace smoking and applies the three steps that Becker has mentioned, they are able to enjoy and use it regularly and become a member of being a “smoker” which involves smoking becoming the idea that Marron sees as a habit. The habit of smoking becomes a semi-conscious act where they smoke like it is “second nature” to them. Similar to Garfinkel (1967) in his idea of membership and competence, they now identify themselves as being a part of something (in this case a smoker) because they have learnt and enabled the act to be successfully done without having to concentrate fully on that task. An example of Garfinkel’s idea was that of learning to drive. When you drive and see yourself as a “driver”, you can recall every action you do without focusing on it. Marron describes it quite well and can be applied to driving and smoking “Embedded in daily routine, the habit may be unquestioned; yet this does not mean that individuals are unthinking. On the contrary, individuals can be called upon to give a conscious account of what they are doing” (Marron, 2016, P7). When applying it to smoking, without even thinking, they can light a cigarette and smoke it without having to think about how they correctly perform the task, in other words, similar to driving, they just do it.

So what does this have to do with stopping people to smoke? Well, by seeing cigs in this perspective it gives us an idea into how easy and quick the act of smoking is and that in order to stop people smoking in the future, it may be wise at looking at ways to break the cycle. People aren’t stupid, they obviously know that smoking is bad for your health but they do it anyway, why? Because it is an addictive (physiological) substance as well as a social habit, for example, having one before work or after a meal. How can breaking the cycle be done, I’m not entirely sure. But seeing it from this direction gives us a starting point in potentially reducing the numbers further.

I hope to release part 2 by next week so I’m looking forward to sharing that with you. It will look at class and cigarettes further and also a brief look into how e-cigs, may not be any different to normal cigs in a social perspective.



Houston. C (1986) The sociology of cigarette smoking. Houston, C. (1986). CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association Journal = Journal De L’Association Medicale Canadienne, 134(8), 878-9.

Marron. D (2016). “Smoke gets in your eyes: What is sociological about cigarettes?” Sociological review. SAGE publications. file:///C:/Users/User/Downloads/1467-954x%252E12404%20(1).pdf (Date accessed 8th July 2017)

Please have a read of both of these articles especially Marron’s which gives a much more deatield piece of writing into the Triad of smoking, the historical, structural and individual aspects of cigarette smoking in society.