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Starting with herself, she fights Denmark's low social mobility

She studies political science at the University of Copenhagen, but comes from a non-academic household. Now she is helping Denmark improve its social mobility

The numbers work against her. Rajneek Koshal Singh is taking a degree in Political Science at the University of Copenhagen, but neither of her parents, who are immigrants from India and England respectively, have a university education.

According to a report from the Danish Ministry of Higher Education and Science, only 23 percent of Danish young adults from households with uneducated parents take a degree. At the other end of the spectrum, 67 percent of those with at least one university-educated parent achieve a Master’s degree.

Inter-generational educational mobility is fairly low the world over. According to the OECD report, Russia and Korea top the rankings with close to 60 per cent upward educational mobility, while the Czech Republic and Germany are at the bottom with just 22 and 24 percent. Despite being the country that spends the largest share of its wealth on education, Denmark is below the international average with 39 percent.

Pattern breakers

Rajneek Koshal Singh is hoping to help change Denmark’s not-so-impressive record:

As a member of the Ministry of Higher Education and Science’s Mønsterbryderkorpset (Danish for ‘the pattern-breaker corps’), she has helped come up with ideas for how universities can attract more people from non-academic homes. The corps submitted their recommendations to the minister in December.

Among other things, the corps has suggested alternative entry requirements for higher education – less focus on grades (as these unfortunately work as a deterrent for people from non-academic homes) and more focus on interviews, tests, and evaluation of individual skill-sets.

Support from home

Personally, Rajneek Koshal Singh would like those that move up in education-level to be seen in a different light: “Being a pattern-breaker doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve had a rough childhood. I grew up in a Brøndby suburb, where I didn’t have to worry about money or food every day. But my parents haven’t got an education, and thus were never able to help me with my homework or advise me on course choices,” she says.

But her parents supported her aspirations and helped her where they could. They financed her move to Odense, where she studied at the University of Southern Denmark, and will be helping out with her upcoming internship, working for NATO in Brussels.

She explains: “They help in whatever way they can. And that means that I have less stress and can concentrate on my studies.”

In the meantime, half of non-students worldwide maintain the status quo and stay at the same level of education as their parents, according to the OECD report .

See a selection of reports on social mobility in the fact box upper right.

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